Artist's rendering of the entry to the hospice house. Courtesy of Good Sam.
Artist's rendering of the entry to the hospice house. Courtesy of Good Samaritan Hospice.

Nonprofits are often awarded grants for their work contributing to a community’s quality of life.

But quality of death? 

Its work helping people die well has led Good Samaritan Hospice to receive last month the largest grant ever given by the Community Foundation Serving Western Virginia: $500,000 for the first hospice house in the region.

The grant brings “Good Sam” more than halfway to its $5 million goal to build its Center for Caring in Roanoke. When it opens — the projected date is August 2024 — the center will include 16 private patient rooms, with space for families, a chapel and gardens.

Artist's rendering of the gardens at  the hospice house. Courtesy of Good Sam.
Artist’s rendering of the gardens at the hospice house. Courtesy of Good Samaritan Hospice.

“We’re really honored and humbled that Good Sam was the recipient of the largest grant in the Community Foundation’s history,” said Aaron Housh, CEO of Good Samaritan. “I think it says something very important about the need for this kind of facility, but it also says something about their faith in Good Samaritan Hospice as an organization and our ability to do this.”

Founded in 1992, Good Sam each year serves 1,200 people in the Roanoke and New River valleys — about 250 at any given time — with end-of-life care including pain management, comfort care, and help with respiratory distress, complex wounds or delirium. 

Funded through Medicare, private insurance and charitable contributions, hospice is authorized for individuals who have been certified by a physician to have six months or less to live. Currently about 26% of Good Sam’s patients have terminal cancer, said Housh; other end-of-life illnesses include Alzheimer’s, dementia, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 

The work of Good Sam’s clinicians and volunteers currently takes place primarily in patients’ home or those of their caregivers. A hospice home will help alleviate the stresses and loneliness of this painful period of life.

“If the patient’s needs exceed what can be done at the home, or maybe the family is exhausted and needs a break, we can send them to this facility where they can get care in a home-like setting surrounded by hospice-trained clinicians with the goal, often times, of returning home because home is always the heart of hospice and everything we do,” said Housh.

Alan Ronk, president and CEO of the Community Foundation, said, “After meeting with the folks from Good Samaritan Hospice, we were convinced that their goal to bring a hospice house to reality was something the Foundation absolutely needed to support. We were pleased that through out own donors’ generosity we were in a position to make a leadership grant to the project.”

Attendees at the announcement look over plans. Courtesy of Good Sam.
Attendees at the announcement look over plans. Courtesy of Good Samaritan Hospice.

A hospice house has been part of Good Sam’s plans from its beginning. 

In 2021, Good Sam purchased a 6-acre lot on Cove Road in Roanoke and launched a $5 million campaign to fund construction. The announcement of the Community Foundation grant, which takes the campaign to $2.6 million, coincided with the date the slab was poured for the hospice home.

“Hospice is not a scary thing,” said Housh. “Hospice and palliative care is you choosing the way you want your final months to be, and in control of those the best you can, surrounded by the people you love and in the place you want to be.”

The work has defined Housh’s life ever since graduating Berea College in Kentucky. He hadn’t planned a career in hospice until he saw a job posting about a local hospice hiring a volunteer director. 

“That decision has directed the rest of my life to working in hospice and ensuring not only do people live their life well but they also die well,” he reflected. “It’s a wonderful mission and something I’m really proud to be a part of.”

Michael Hemphill is a former award-winning newspaper reporter, and less lauded stay-at-home dad, who...