Hospice breaks ground for new facility

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, June 21, 2011

By Hugh Fisher
SALISBURY — About 80 people, including local leaders and Rowan Regional Medical Center staff, celebrated the groundbreaking of the Rowan Hospice House on Monday morning.
The ceremony was halted briefly when Ronnie Smith, local philanthropist and longtime supporter of the hospital foundation, interrupted a speaker. He was escorted from the event.
Scheduled to open in June 2012, the Rowan Hospice House will feature 14 suites and will offer end-of-life care not currently available in this county.
Hospital staff and administrators joined local officials and spectators under a tent at 1229 Statesville Blvd. to ceremonially start construction of the $6.4 million facility.
Libby Gish, co-chairwoman of the Hospice House steering committee, said Monday was a red-letter day, but that purple might be a better color.
Purple is the color that the National Hospice and Palliative Care organization associates with “honor, spirituality and self-esteem.”
Many of those in attendance wore purple ribbons, and other purple ribbons decorated the ceremonial golden shovels used in the ceremony.
Gish went on to thank those who had played roles in making the Rowan Hospice House a reality.
“It’s all of the work that’s been done before now,” said Edwina Ritchie, director of hospice services.
She stood on grass where, just over a year from now, the new facility will offer a place for families and friends to comfort and honor those who are in the final stages of life.
“We’re going to have the Hospice House that’s been dreamed of for so long,” Ritchie said.
Not every county has this kind of dedicated end-of-life facility.
Hospice & Palliative Care of Cabarrus County operates a home in Kannapolis. Other hospice houses are located in Forsyth, Mecklenburg and other counties in North Carolina.
Representatives visited other hospice houses in the course of developing their plan for Rowan’s new facility.
Decades of work
Steering committee co-chairwoman Tippie Miller said this groundbreaking is the culmination of nearly 30 years of effort.
“Starting as far back as 1980, when members of the Salisbury/Rowan Family Life Council heard of a program called hospice … (they) studied that concept of caring for ill patients in their homes,” Miller said.
She said that, while the Hospice house will be under the umbrella of Rowan Regional Medical Center, it will remain “a community-driven effort.”
Dari Caldwell, president of Rowan Regional Medical Center, said that the hospice house fills a pressing need.
“When I came here a year ago, I asked what was most important that we needed to do,” Caldwell said.
The only hospice care in Rowan County is an outpatient program that serves patients in their homes, Caldwell said.
In some cases, such as when younger adults are stricken with a terminal illness and children are in the home, it can be difficult for the dying patient to have a calm, home-like environment.
The hospice house will provide end-of-life care in an atmosphere that’s as much like home as possible.
“It’s a comfortable environment with lots of amenities,” Caldwell said.
Caldwell said that the Rowan Hospice House will be designed for expansion to meet future needs.
Up to 11 additional beds can be added in later years as need warrants, she said.
As Caldwell, Gish, Miller and others raised their shovels, the Rev. Harold Jordan, hospice chaplain, asked blessings on the location and the men and women who would offer care there in years to come.
Smith apologizes
Smith, who reportedly has been outspoken in his opposition to the facility’s location, interrupted Gish’s remarks, shouting, “No!” when asked to leave by a hospital security guard.
Salisbury Police Chief Rory Collins was at the event. He said officers intervened after Smith refused Novant representatives’ request that he leave.
After addressing the crowd loudly and speaking briefly to police, he left the scene with three officers and a hospital public safety staff member.
As he left, Smith told a reporter that the Salisbury Post should report on a “conspiracy” involving the Hospice House.
The ceremony continued without further interruption.
Ritchie, other hospital staff and Hospice House committee members declined to comment on the incident.
Caldwell simply called the interruption, “Very sad.”
She said Smith had left phone messages for her and others expressing his displeasure with the Hospice House’s location.
Collins said he did not foresee any charges being filed against Smith.
Reached by phone at his home Monday afternoon, Smith called his removal from the ceremony, “Very upsetting.”
“I was embarrassed, and I apologize for any incident that may have embarrassed anybody else,” Smith said.
He declined to comment further, referring all questions to his attorney, John Holshouser.
Holshouser confirmed via phone that he was Smith’s legal counsel, but said he wasn’t yet familiar enough with the morning’s events to comment.
Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.