House of Comfort makes former MBNA site home

     PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Aroostook Hospice Foundation held a project kick-off event at the former MBNA facility in Presque Isle on July 31. Members of Maine’s congressional delegation, state representatives, Aroostook Hospice board members, and a myriad of generous donors all attended the event.

      According to Vice Chairman Michael MacPherson, the Aroostook Hospice Foundation still needs to raise about $1 million to reach their goal. Financial estimates include $225,000 for furnishings and equipment, $95,000 for fundraising, and roughly $100,000 to start an endowment to cover non-reimbursed costs for care that is not covered by patients.

     The future hospice facility covers 7,783 square feet, or roughly half of the former MBNA building. The foundation plans to build an additional 2,270 square feet along with a 300 square-foot porch. The hospice house is set to include six resident rooms, a food pantry, dining room, kitchen, chapel, foundation office, living room, nursing office, and rooms for staff.

     The remaining portion 7,500 square feet of office space will be available for lease.

     Sharon Campbell, Regional Representative for Sen. Angus King, Jr., spoke of her time working at a hospice and played videos of Sens. King and Susan Collins speaking about this project.

     “It’s such a pleasure to congratulate the Aroostook Hospice Foundation and its many supporters and volunteers for your commitment to bringing compassionate hospice care to the county,” said Collins via video. “Advancements in medicine and technology have led to longer and healthier lives, but when medicine treatment can no longer sustain a life, patients and their families should not have to endure preventable pain, avoidable distress, or care that is simply inconsistent with their values or wishes.”

     A video statement from King followed. “I want to compliment the wonderful people and leaders who made this project happen,” said King. “You’ve had what I call the four P’s. You started with a plan and vision. Partnerships have been important throughout this. The third “P” is passion: the passion of people who have brought this project to fruition. Finally, there’s perseverance: sticking with it through all of the obstacles and keeping true to the vision to get where you are today.”

     MacPherson then introduced Bob Graves, founder of the Logan P. Graves Golf Classic.

     “I feel compelled to share why this is so important to us by telling you about Logan, my son,” said Graves. “He was diagnosed with a brain tumor in 1998 and passed away in December that same year. The doctors told us there was nothing we could do, so we decided to remove him from life support. We were told that he would only have 4-24 hours to live.

     “He exceeded everyone’s expectations, and after several days we decided we wanted him to come home. We set up his bed in our living room near the Christmas tree. A good friend of ours, who is a doctor, was there 24 hours a day along with another good friend from Visiting Nurses of Aroostook. Our church family was there, Rick Duncan was there, and my personal family was there.

     “I was very fortunate to not have to worry about work and stayed with my son and family. Logan passed on Dec. 8, but he was in my home and my arms. The whole idea of the House of Comfort was exactly what I experienced in my home on Dec. 8, when you have doctors, people from Visiting Nurses, friends, and family available. This setting was a microcosm of exactly what the House of Comfort is going to be, and I am truly grateful to Rick Duncan for letting us be a part of this.”

     MacPherson then introduced Christine Turner, director of Hospice and Palliative Care Programs at VNA Home Health Hospice. “I want to make it clear that The Aroostook Hospice Foundation is the board that runs the whole project, but it does business as the Aroostook House of Comfort,” explained MacPherson. “The other organization under this board is the Hospice of Aroostook, or the Visiting Nurses of Aroostook.”

      Turner discussed merging with the Aroostook Hospice Foundation. “We are in the process of merging, and will be a merged entity on Oct. 1 of this year, at which point we will be a hospice partner for the Aroostook House of Comfort.”

     Turner continued, “I’ve been in and around the hospice community for close to 20 years. As a county we’ve made some great strides with end-of-life care, but we still have some work to do. I’m very proud to be a part of this organization as we look towards the future in improving both the quality and access to end of life care here in the county.”

     Rick Duncan, chairman of the Aroostook Hospice Foundation, then took the stage. “This has been an incredible journey. It’s a privilege and honor to be associated with such incredible people. This dream happened six years ago, and the name ‘Aroostook House of Comfort’ was born that day as well. The dream was for a facility or way to provide the best of both worlds and to combine the great health care we have in northern Maine with a home environment.

     “The dream quickly turned to action. Not one person from this organization has taken a single cent for this project. There are too many adjectives for me to accurately describe these people,” Duncan said. “They’re just amazing. We’ve gone through a lot of hills and valleys to make this happen. There have been things that have fallen and come together. There were people like Michael Scarks, who knew what our dream was and wanted to be a part of it.

     “One person told me this morning that they had a sense of peace while driving up to the facility. All of us involved have the same feeling. We know it’s good for our community and I just want to thank all of you for what you’ve done to help this dream come true.”

     The kickoff ended with a flag-raising in dedication of Joyce Davis’s husband, Arnie Davis, who passed away in 2013. Joyce Davis was one of the first donors to the hospice, and requested to have the flagpole named after her husband. Her sons Robert and Stephen accompanied Duncan and MacPherson as they raised a flag that was once flown over the United States Capitol.

     MacPherson’s final words on the hospice elicited a standing ovation. “We have a friend who should have been able to use this building, and she died this morning. Many of you knew Lee Roix; she was 48 years old and had a very rare disease that took her life this morning.

     “When you go home, I want you to talk to everybody you know and tell them what this is all about. Tell them we still have a long way to go; ask them to help make this happen.”