Eighteen years ago, I was newly married and looking for a job in the Baltimore area. I had been working as a hospital social worker in a busy cancer center in Pennsylvania, and in my job, more often than not, I was doing the “hospice talk” with patients who were not going to get better.
Gilchrist was a small “mom and pop” type operation back then, and a great fit. Within months of my arrival, Gilchrist Center, our inpatient hospice center, had opened, and I was following my home care patients to the center for care. Two years later, after the birth of my daughter, inpatient care became my full-time job.
I’d like to be able to say that patients and their families came to us fully informed – aware of what awaited them and how their remaining weeks might look. But they didn’t. I was still doing the “hospice talk,” even with those already in hospice. But while my role in the hospital was limited to helping patients make the decision to transition from cure to comfort, as a Gilchrist social worker, I was able to take them so much further in their journeys.
Eighteen years later, I have so many stories:
• Of the AIDS patient who had lived a hard life – on the street and on drugs. Her outlook on life didn’t improve much once she got to Gilchrist Center. In fact, there were times she’d walk out the front door vowing to leave; she never made it far. But for her family, those weeks spent in our inpatient center were a source of comfort. After all, they’d spent years worrying about her and wondering where she was. She had no insurance, but we still provided care. At Gilchrist Center, they could finally find peace knowing she was OK and well-cared for.
• Of the young man with melanoma who so loved music that his mother would bring his eclectic mix of CDs and play them in his room. He wanted to see a favorite band so badly that we arranged with the band and security for him to attend, then took him there by ambulance. For years, his mother stayed in touch with me through post cards, or time spent enjoying a coffee.
• Of the nice man from the Pimlico area, who didn’t have much. I remember him well, mainly because of his timing. He was assigned the hospice room a wealthy philanthropist had occupied just 12 hours earlier. In hospice, everyone is treated the same.
In my 18 years here – and the 20 years since Gilchrist Hospice Care accepted its first patient – little has changed for our patients. We still provide the same amazing care. And while we operate under stiffer rules thanks to changing regulations and have had to tighten our belts because of cuts to Medicare, we still pledge to provide care whether the patient has insurance or the means to pay. It’s such a gift to be able to say to families, “We’ll take care of you no matter what.”