Marking a year of comforting care
Just outside the front door of Evelyn’s House is the busy, noisy, sometimes chaotic construction site for the Barnes-Jewish West County replacement hospital. But step inside, and you can almost feel the tranquility.
Envisioned as an environment where both adult and pediatric hospice patients could come for symptom management or respite care, as well as for end-of-life care, Evelyn’s House was designed, built and staffed to make patients, and their families, feel supported and at home during a difficult time. As BJC Hospice’s house marks its first anniversary, staff and families note that Evelyn’s House has been successful on many levels.
Not a 'facility'
Patrick White, MD, BJC Hospice medical director, has seen patients break down in tears upon entering the Evelyn’s House great room. Not tears of fear or pain, he says, but tears of relief and even joy that Evelyn’s House doesn’t look, feel, sound or smell like a hospital or care “facility.”
“It looks like a mansion,” he says. “It feels like a home.”
And like a home, Evelyn’s House welcomes family and friends. With a family kitchen and dining room, gathering room, meditation room, children’s activity room and other amenities, family members can stay with their loved ones around-the-clock.
A meditation garden, donated by the Missouri Botanical Garden, and My Sister’s Garden, donated by Patrick and Aja Stokes, and adjacent to Creve Coeur’s Millennium Park, offers patients and families a chance to be close to nature.
“When you open the windows, you hear so many birds — even with the construction nearby,” says lead charge nurse Natalie Mansouri.
Doors in each patient suite are large enough to accommodate hospital beds, allowing patients and families to access private patios where they can watch deer emerge from the woods in the evenings and butterflies visit the gardens.
The staff helped one patient with a lifelong love of the outdoors spend their final hours in My Sister’s Garden. The patient’s family was “overjoyed” to be able to honor their loved one’s passion, says Dr. White.
Unmatched care, compassion and expertise
An idyllic setting and range of amenities make Evelyn’s House special, but the staff’s compassion and specialized expertise make it extraordinary.
“The attention patients get 24 hours a day from a staff of doctors, registered nurses and certified nurse assistants sets us apart and draws patients from around the region,” says patient care manager Ann Short.
The care team is trained in pain and symptom management and other end-of-life issues. Patients may be admitted for control of a pain crisis or symptoms like severe nausea or diarrhea.
“People are often surprised at how quickly we’re able to get symptoms under control,” says Dr. White. “That can mean that patients are able to return home after just a short inpatient stay.”
One patient who was admitted for several short stays to manage symptoms over the last several months of their illness had a family member who worked in health care. The family was so appreciative that the patient was able to avoid hospital stays, that they have become an “ambassador” for Evelyn’s House with co-workers and medical staff, Dr. White says.
In addition to physical care, the therapists, chaplains and staff at Evelyn’s House offer emotional and spiritual care for patients and families, including bereavement care for family members after the patient has passed.
“It’s about meeting patients and family where they are,” says Jennifer Dykeman, ATR, LPC, an Evelyn’s House expressive therapist and bereavement counselor. Whether at the bedside, helping patients create a legacy project for their family, or in the art room, where family members get the release of kneading and modeling clay, she helps them access and work through their complex feelings.
Staff members often partner with Friends of Wing — volunteers and donors “working to create memories, celebrate life and bring comfort to BJC pediatric and adult hospice patients, families and others impacted by life-limiting illness.”
This partnership has resulted in celebrations including birthday parties, barbecues and a wedding; patients being able to die with a pet nearby or while holding a treasured object; or a patient leaving Evelyn’s House for the final time wearing the nightgown her granddaughter bought for her.
“We want to help patients pass on their own terms,” says Dr. White.
A year of surprises and satisfaction
Starting a new service in a new location with new staff was bound to bring surprises. But during Evelyn’s House’s first year, the biggest surprise has been how quickly it’s earned a spot in the hearts of those who work, volunteer, visit and stay there.
“I’m constantly surprised and moved by the generosity of our donors,” says clinical manager Ann Short. Whether it’s food for the snack pantry, kitchen towels and cookware, a special celebration for one of the patients, or a constant supply of ice cream treats in the freezer from Evelyn Newman’s family (for whom the house is named), “they find a way to get it done.”
She’s also surprised that knowledge of Evelyn’s House has spread so far, so fast. The house often gets calls for referrals from outside BJC. Word of the kind of work done at Evelyn’s House has also spread throughout the nursing community. “In a market where it can be hard to fill nursing jobs, I’ve got a waiting list of people wanting to come to Evelyn’s House,” she says.
Charge nurse Mansouri and expressive therapist Dykeman are surprised by how quickly and closely the staff have bonded.
“This is a very cohesive group,” says Dykeman. “It’s amazing the level of camaraderie and support there is.”
“In this first year, I’m most proud of my co-workers,” says Mansouri. “Evelyn’s House provides a service unique in the hospice world. Everyone works so smoothly together in supporting our patients and one another. It’s humbling and wonderful.”