By Chris Wells
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Gilchrist Hospice Care has begun construction on a new wing for its Towson Center facility that will cater specifically to Jewish patients and their families.
Gilchrist, a Maryland-based nonprofit that services Baltimore City as well as Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, cares for more than 500 terminally ill patients on a daily basis and has three separate inpatient centers, Gilchrist officials said.
The recent fundraising campaign, which will cover a 2,400-square-foot expansion to Gilchrist’s Towson facility, was conceived by Steven Faber, president and CEO of MileOne Automotive.
Faber’s father died at Gilchrist in 2011, and shortly thereafter he began looking for a way to make the organization even better.
“We are thrilled that we have a grateful donor,” said Lori Mulligan, the senior director of development at the hospice. “[Faber is] one who recognizes the need for Jewish families to feel comfortable, supported during end-of-life and whose discussions with our leadership led to the creation of the Jewish Hospice Program.”
The hospice is currently in the middle of a fundraising campaign that officials hope will raise $6.8 million. According to Mulligan, $2 million of the total will finance the expansion to the Towson Center, while another $2 million will create an endowment enabling more members of the Jewish community to receive end-of-life care. Another $2.8 million will be set aside as a private endowment for Gilchrist.
To this end, Faber worked with several Jewish organizations based in and around the Baltimore region, including Jewish Community Services (JCS) and The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore.
The expansion comes at a time when the demand for hospice services is growing. According to the JCS, the elderly population of Jewish Baltimore will triple in the next decade.
“We are delighted Gilchrist is extending its services,” said Leslie Pomerantz, the chief development officer of the Dignity Fund, which is in charge of managing the new endowment for JCS. “Gilchrist is the gold standard for hospice care in Baltimore.”
Pomerantz said the Jewish community wishes to have special care available to those going through the end-of-life process. This entails providing high quality medical care while also attending to the spiritual and cultural needs unique to Jewish patients.
A contract for the construction was finalized in 2015. The contractor broke ground on the site in January. The extension is expected to open by June, according to Chaya Lasson, the Jewish hospice program manager at Gilchrist.
The new additions to Gilchrist will include a sanctuary, a courtyard, a family area and a kosher kitchenette. Professional educators trained in Jewish customs will also be provided. There will not be any patient rooms added at this time.
“The new wing is just a small part of our new Jewish Hospice Program,” Mulligan said. “Hospice is more than just a building. It is a concept of care that focuses on providing comfort-based care for patients and their families using an interdisciplinary approach.”
A FAQ page on Gilchrist’s website explains that hospice organizations are distinct from other medical organizations and facilities in that they deal primarily with patients who are terminally ill. Hospice focuses on symptom management and physical comfort, a branch of medicine known as a palliative care. Although patients are occasionally discharged from hospice, most intend to live out their remaining days under hospice supervision.
Hospice care also differs in its responsibilities. While all doctors and nurses must exercise a professional and sympathetic bedside manner, hospice workers are expected to interface heavily with the families of patients and guide them through the end-of-life process.
Rabbi Sandy Rubenstein, a chaplain and Jewish spiritual resource specialist at Montgomery Hospice, said the news about Gilchrist is good to hear.
“I think it will send the message that Gilchrist Hospice is attempting to be sensitive to the customs, rituals and beliefs of Jewish patients,” Rubenstein said. “Their families want to better assist them in feeling comfortable, that their particular religious and spiritual needs will be met.”
The demand for hospice care in America is on the rise in general. The US Census Bureau projects that America’s 65 and older population will swell from 45 million in 2015 to nearly 80 million by 2050. Leading Age magazine reports that hospice organizations all around the country are seeking the means to expand their operations.
“I think partnering with the Jewish community and recognizing the value the community places on the sanctity of life is crucial,” Lasson said.“Through this program, we are educating the Jewish community so that they can make the best decision for their families.”