Church Home’s Role in Hospice Care in Baltimore

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By Jane Marks, ’76

I had the honor of visiting with Dr. Jack Zimmerman and his wife, Doris, to discuss the hospice program at Church Home and Hospital. He shared an article that he had written and I thought it best that I share parts with you.

A fact of history which is largely forgotten by those of us in Baltimore is that our city was the site of one of the very first hospices in the United States. The Church Home and Hospital Hospice was the second such program on the east coast. Church Home and Hospital (CHH) was an inner city hospital where I was Chief of Surgery. When its hospice program was founded in 1977 there were no more than four to five functioning hospices in this country.

Modern hospice care as we know it can be said to have begun in 1967 with the opening of St. Christopher’s Hospice in Sydenham, a suburb of London, under the direction of Dame Cicely Saunders, a visionary physician. In the mid 1970s it came to North America, first to Canada and then to the United States with the opening of the Hospice of Connecticut near New Haven. The idea caught on out on the west coast, so that by 1975 there were a few hospice programs operating in this country.

Dr. Zimmerman acknowledges Paul Dawson, CHH chaplain, for bringing the idea of hospice to his attention. Chaplain Dawson arranged for experts from the Hospice of Connecticut, England, and Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal to visit CHH. Dr. Zimmerman notes his reaction as he listened to Balfour Mount, MD, from Montreal.

He began his talk with a slide of a lovely young student nurse with advanced ovarian cancer for whom he was caring. By the time he finished speaking, I was convinced that if hospice worked at the “Royal Vic” it could work at Church Home.

Six representatives went to England to gather information about hospice: Dr. Zimmerman, Doris Zimmerman, Helen Fowler, RN, Paula Dawson, and George and Maureen Mason.

In December 1977 the first patients were admitted to the Church Home Hospice program. The program flourished and expanded, continuing its vigorous growth until CHH closed in 1999. Hospice has come a long way in Baltimore and worldwide since Church Home and Hospital took the bold step almost four decades ago.

Dr. Zimmerman’s Hospice: Complete Care for the Terminally Ill, is noted in the foreword by Dame Saunders as the first real textbook of hospice.

I had the privilege of working with the hospice team during a period in which Mrs. Fowler was on leave. It is important to acknowledge those who developed and contributed to the success of this program: the team that gathered the information, laid the foundation; Bonnie Ray, the nurse practitioner who got done whatever needed to be done for patients and families; and most important, the dedicated staff on Barton 5, who provided tender care and compassion.

A special thank you to Dr. Zimmerman for sharing his article and story.

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