Hamilton Herald Masthead


Front Page - Friday, November 26, 2021

Working to write a better ending

Welcome Home starts small in building an alternative to traditional hospice care

When Sherry Campbell’s grandfather suffered a stroke, his family cared for him in the house in which he had been born. There was no talk of sending him to a nursing home; his life would end where it began and in the presence of family.

“It was what families did. We took care of our own,” says Campbell, a lifelong social worker. “Humans have been caring for each other at the beginning of life and at the end of life throughout history. It’s in our blood.”

Society has changed since her grandfather died, Campbell says. Instead of receiving end-of-life care at home, people spend their final days, months or years in facilities like a nursing home, physically removed from loved ones.

“We’re scared of death, so we’ve consigned it to ICUs and nursing homes,” Campbell continues. “We’ve sanitized it and demystified it and won’t talk about it. But to help someone walk home is a gift.”

Campbell is the founder and director of Welcome Home of Chattanooga, a residential facility where people with terminal illnesses can live out their final days. There, a small staff labors to provide them with a place Campbell hopes feels like home and family.

“Nursing homes do a wonderful job of caring for people, but some folks need something different,” Campbell adds. “In a small home setting, your emotional wounds can heal and you can find love, forgiveness and reconciliation.

“We all want the same thing at the end of our life – to know someone loves us and is going to remember us. So, Welcome Home does everything it can to help provide its residents with a peaceful death.”

The staff at Welcome Home does not offer medical care, but rather brings in partner organizations to provide that component.

“A lot of people think ‘hospice’ is a place because of how we use the word. We say, ‘We put mom in hospice,’” Campbell explains. “But hospice is actually a service you receive in your home or a nursing home.”

Unfortunately, Campbell continues, the facilities where people can receive hospice care are dwindling. Nursing homes are doing less long-term care and more short-term care, she says, even as Baby Boomers begin to need assistance.

“That leaves fewer options for people who have a life-limiting illness, or for someone who’s living alone and might not have the means to be admitted to a nursing home,” Campbell notes.

Welcome Home is one of just two hospice care homes in Tennessee and four in the Southeast, Campbell points out. In addition, it has only four beds for residents.

However, a new location on Quiet Creek Trail and the funding to begin a three-phase renovation of the 4.7-acre property will increase its capacity, says Sarah Quattrochi, Welcome Home’s development director.

“The State of Tennessee will let us care for only five residents under one roof because we don’t fit neatly in any category of care. But the cool thing about this property is there are already three houses on it.”

Campbell and Quattrochi are seated in the lower level of the main building, a two-level structure that stands at the end of a winding, forest-lined driveway and accommodates four residents upstairs and staff downstairs.

Welcome Home moved to Quiet Creek Trail this fall after renting a house on Germantown Road for five years. Although the nonprofit was able to accommodate five residents at its previous location, the presence of two additional structures on the new property will ultimately allow it to double its former capacity.

“We’ve already started to renovate what we call Little Blue – a small blue house up the hill beyond this building. That’s going to be a three-bedroom home,” reports Quattrochi. “And behind Little Blue is what will be another three-bedroom home.”

Campbell and Quattrochi hope to have all three homes completely renovated by next summer.

Welcome Home’s capital campaign paid for the first phase of the renovation, which cost $900,000 and included the purchase of the property and the overhaul of the main building.

Phase two will include the restoration of the two additional homes, stormwater and driveway improvements and landscaping – and come with a price tag of $500,000, Quattrochi says.

“Sherry and our board of directors have done a great job of being fiscally responsible, so we have a nice nest egg and feel confident we can raise the money we need,” Quattrochi continues.

A third phase might someday see Welcome Home build more houses on its property, but those plans are not set in stone.

“We want to see how having five more residents will change what it takes to operate,” Quattrochi clarifies.

Campbell has kept a constant eye on the needs of the end-of-life population. During a 12-year stint with Hospice of Chattanooga, she encountered what she calls an endless procession of people who had nowhere to be as their life drew to a close and began to conceive what would become Welcome Home.

“Some of those people were experiencing homelessness when they were diagnosed with a terminal illness. Others had a home but no family or other people checking on them, so they were facing dying alone,” Campbell laments.

The need continued to grow and eventually became too big to ignore, continues Campbell. In 2014, a nascent Welcome Home received a $360,000 seed grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield Health Foundation. This allowed Campbell to leave Hospice of Chattanooga and launch her nonprofit.

Welcome Home opened its doors and greeted its first occupant in 2015. Since then, the organization has served 83 residents.

Campbell began the search for a permanent home for Welcome Home soon after launching the nonprofit. The organization found the Quiet Creek Trail in 2019 and then purchased it in July of last year.

Although the business of running the nonprofit continues, Campbell keeps the logistics of its operation confined to its offices. Beyond those small chambers, she and the rest of the staff strive to nurture a homelike atmosphere.

Cats belonging to previous residents roam the main building, and every staff member – regardless of their job title – contributes to the care of the dying.

Campbell rarely leaves before 7 p.m. and often helps to prepare dinner. She also “holds hands and is the family the residents experience.”

It’s a lot of work for only a few people, Campbell admits, and it makes a barely visible dent in the need, even as it means the world to their residents. For that reason, she welcomes any group that wants to learn about how Welcome Home operates.

“We want to provide a successful model others can replicate,” she says. “Our door is open and we will share all the information we have to help them find their way.”

Campbell will also continue to help Welcome Home’s residents find their way as they take their final steps.

“I can’t imagine not being with people at the end of their life. It’s sacred and holy ground,” she says.

“When residents first come here, they have been invisible to the community for years. Many of our residents aren’t used to being loved or trusting someone.

“But after a few days or weeks, they start to realize they’re safe, and they start feeling strong enough to do the things they need to do to have a peaceful death.

“That might be forgiving a family member or a friend, or asking for forgiveness, or reaching out and telling someone they love them.”

Campbell tells a story about the final chapter in the life of a resident named James as a way to express what it means to do the work of Welcome Home.

“We were sitting on a balcony one evening and I asked him if there was anyone we needed to call. He brushed me off, but a few nights later, he said, ‘I want to call my sister.’

“I was nervous about her response, but when he called her, you could hear her screaming on the phone. She was happy. She came the next day and then brought other family.

“When James died, the house was full of his people, and they were keeping vigil with him, sharing stories about him and laughing. There was so much love in that room. It was a gift to be a part of that.”