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Committed early volunteers introduced Hospice to Moore County

| Date Posted: 9/27/2011

PINEHURST – It is even something of a stretch to characterize the introduction of hospice to Moore County as a grassroots movement.


Among the supporters on hand for a FirstHealth Hospice event several years ago were (from left) the late Dr. Don Schulte, Dr. Ellen Willard, MaryLee Schulte, Jean Irvin and the Rev. Buddy Olney. The Schultes, Irvin and Olney were members of the original Sandhills Hospice Board of Directors. Dr. Willard is the current medical director of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care.

It would be better described as a dining room movement.

"A lot of those original plans were done around my dining room table,” recalls Mary Tart, a member of the original Sandhills Hospice Board of Directors.

The tireless efforts of Tart and other original Sandhills Hospice volunteers will be recalled again and again as FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care settles into its new campus north of Pinehurst this fall and as the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation puts the finishing touches on the 2011 Pottery Auction.

The 16th annual Pottery Auction, the major fundraiser for the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation, will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Country Club of North Carolina.

"Hospice began in this community as a volunteer organization, and it continues to rely on the personal and professional gifts of volunteers,” says Kathleen Stockham, president of the Foundation of FirstHealth. “They provide patient services; they do clerical work; they raise philanthropy and awareness of our excellent services throughout the community. I frankly can’t imagine what our hospice organization would be without them.”

In the late 1970s, when those formative gatherings were being held at the Tart home in Southern Pines, the hospice concept was so new to the American health care landscape that relatively few Moore County residents had even heard of it. It was natural, therefore, that many of those early local supporters would have medical backgrounds.

Mary Tart was a registered nurse; her husband Jim, a cardiologist. Members of the original group also included MaryLee Schulte, Linda Moore and Irene Pace, also nurses; Dr. Donald Schulte, Dr. David Allen, Dr. Alfred Siege and Dr. William Hollister; and former Moore Memorial Hospital chaplain Carlisle Franks.


The FirstHealth Hospice House is located on the campus of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care just off Highway 15-501 north of Pinehurst.

The group may have been small, but its members were guided by a shared purpose.

"Unlike today, when current Medicare guidelines define what will be done and how, we had no guidelines, but were driven by doing what was done for patients and families with the support of Hospice of North Carolina and the success of other start-up hospices across the state,” says MaryLee Schulte. “There was a goal, and everybody was working toward that goal. We did what we did, because it was the right thing to do.”

Although the Sandhills Hospice Board was developed in 1976, a hold-up on the organization’s certificate of need delayed the actual opening (and first patients) until 1980. Anne Monroe Cenci, the daughter of the hospital’s first administrator, Dr. Clement Monroe, was the first nurse coordinator, working two days a week out of a social worker’s office in what was then Moore Memorial Hospital.

The organization would eventually graduate to two rooms and a storage closet in the hospital’s former nurses’ residence and then to locations on Highway 5 and May Street in Southern Pines before settling into a new building on Aviemore Drive in Pinehurst, its home for more than 20 years, in 1990.

In the early days, before hospice care became a Medicare benefit and when only the patient coordinator was paid, volunteers provided the yeoman’s share of services. Nurses who worked full time on various hospital floors spent many hours of their free time providing patient care. Charlotte Patterson, the director of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care for the past 12 years, was among that dedicated group. So were Mary Tart and MaryLee Schulte.

Schulte became patient care coordinator in 1981 and held the post until 1984. “My life is forever changed because of my role as patient care coordinator,” she says.

As the community’s need for hospice care increased, so did Sandhills Hospice’s need for organizational support. Again the Herculean efforts of volunteers kept the shoestring organization afloat. They included Ursula Hebert, who maintained a donor database out of a shoebox she kept under the bed; her husband Bob, who was instrumental in application efforts for the group’s 1983 Medicare designation; and various local ministers who assumed the role of volunteer chaplain.

The hospital, now Moore Regional, and its new parent organization, FirstHealth of the Carolinas, began to take on even greater roles, too. On April 1, 1996, Sandhills Hospice merged with FirstHealth to create FirstHealth Hospice (later FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care).

"It’s wonderful to see what has happened with (hospice),” says Tart. “It could never have done what it has done if it had stayed a volunteer organization.”

Broadening services eventually came to include the bereavement care offered not only to the families and friends of hospice patients but also to anyone in the community needing it. Tina Gibbs, now associate director of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care, joined the organization in 1995 as a social worker and soon recognized that bereavement care was a significant hospice issue.

“By early 2000, I was getting tons of calls from the general public in need of counseling and groups related to grief and loss issues,” she says. “We started doing additional offerings as I could manage. It was soon getting so busy that I was able to put a proposal together to hire someone to work directly in the program, which later became the Grief Resource & Counseling Center.”

Currently, three full-time and one half-time Grief Resource & Counseling Center counselors oversee 106 support groups and work with hundreds of individuals each year (846 one-on-one sessions and 2,700 family contacts in 2009). Overall, FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care’s current 66 employees and 61 volunteers record nearly 40,000 patient visits each year, serving patients and families in Moore and Montgomery counties.

As is often the case in these situations, the employees and volunteers providing services sometimes find themselves on the receiving end of care. Schulte’s husband was briefly a hospice patient. So was Tart’s mother.

“Having actually used it for support with my mother, I know what it means to this community,” says Tart. “It’s been a blessing for so many people who have terminally ill family members. To have watched it grow is just wonderful.”

Pottery Auction supports Hospice Foundation
When Sandhills Hospice merged with FirstHealth of the Carolinas in 1996, it had an endowment of about $1 million. By 2000, the money—managed by the FirstHealth Hospice Foundation—had grown to about $3 million. At the same time, operating deficits for the organization that never turns anyone away had reached about $500,000 a year.

In an effort to offset the deficits and provide services for generations to come, the Hospice Foundation initiated The Hospice Challenge, a successful effort to raise the endowment to $10 million.

Now in its 16th year, the annual Pottery Auction also supports the work of FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care by raising funds for the Hospice Foundation. The first Pottery Auction, held on Sept. 26, 1996, attracted 30 to 40 people to the Hospice parking lot on Aviemore Drive. The 2011 event, which will be held Saturday, Oct. 1, at the Country Club of North Carolina, is expected to draw 10 times that number.

In addition to the Chairman’s Choice pottery of From the Ground Up potter Michael Mahan and the wares of dozens of other Pottery Country artisans, the upcoming fundraiser will include a variety of “Plus” items” highlighted by the chance to win a Royal Caribbean cruise for two.

Only 200 tickets, to be sold for $100 each, will be available for the drawing. The winner will be able to choose from among seven destinations for balcony accommodations for up to 12 nights.

Although the drawing will take place during the live auction portion of the Pottery Auction, the winner does not have to be present to claim the prize.

What: 16th Annual Pottery Auction
When: Saturday, Oct. 1, 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Where: Country Club of North Carolina, Pinehurst
Why: To benefit FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care. Featuring a drawing for a Royal Caribbean cruise for two as well as silent and live auctions, cocktails and hors d’oeuvres. Tickets are $65 per person.

For more information and tickets, call (910) 695-7510.



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