New hospice house to break ground in early September

By Lance Henderson

The Whatcom Hospice Foundation, a St. Joseph Hospital program that helps terminally ill patients experience their last days with dignity, has entered into the public phase of its capital fundraising campaign to build a new 12-bed hospice house, which will be located at 2806 Douglas Ave. in the Happy Valley Neighborhood.

Mike Kirkland, executive director for the Whatcom Hospice Foundation, said they have also applied to the city of Bellingham for construction permits.

Kirkland said since November of last year, the foundation has been seeking out a select group of charitable donors who could help them begin to raise the $4.5 million for design and construction plus a $1 million endowment that would help maintain the hospice house in perpetuity.

To date, the foundation has raised more than $2.3 million in pledges and gifts and is now opening up the fundraising campaign to the broader Bellingham community.

Kirkland said the quiet phase of the campaign when they seek selective donors is necessary to build support and attract new donors.

“You need to show some success in your project so that other folks can then join you in the process and we are there,” Kirkland said.

The foundation is being joined by some major players in the design and construction world. Dawson Construction will be the project’s general contractor, and Zervas Group Architects have finalized the construction drawings and renderings. Plus, the design and construction is being led by a committee of builders, designers and subcontractors who will be involved as soon as the project breaks ground in September.

“We have figured, in our own uneducated math, that we’ve got up to $3,000 worth of time in a room each week with the likes of Pete Dawson of Dawson Construction, Mike Smith of Zervas Group, and John Huntley from Mills Electric,” Kirkland said of their design meetings.

Even in a rough economy, Kirkland said the foundation has received an outpouring of support from the business community.

“It starts with the cause,” Kirkland said. “People have a vision for what it’s like to have a need at the end of life. Many of them have had an experience of having hospice care for a loved one, for a friend or for someone who was significant in their life.”

Mike Hammes, owner of Ram Construction and leader of the design and construction committee, said his life was touched by someone who eventually required hospice care.

Hammes said back when he wanted to start his own construction business, a friend of his named Perry Mortensen loaned him $50,000 to buy an excavator and Ram Construction was born.

In 2000, Mortensen was diagnosed with terminal liver cancer and went in to receive hospice care for his last days.

“For six months, I witnessed the care and compassion Perry received from hospice,” Hammes said in a statement. “I promised myself that if I ever had a chance to thank them, I would.”

Hammes said this hospice house project was the perfect way to honor his friend and especially the hospice workers who helped him.

“It’s an incredible job,” Hammes said. “They know the outcome, and they are still there every day providing the best care possible.”

The Whatcom Hospice Foundation provides hospice care to more than 100 patients in their homes throughout Whatcom County, but the hospice house will only serve approximately 10 percent of those patients, so why the big project?

Kirkland said that in the last days of life, some people find that they have nowhere to be and no family to take care of them. As an example, he mentioned a man living at the Lighthouse Mission and two single mothers who had to spend their last days in a nursing home with visitation restrictions on their young children.

“There are better ways to do this,” Kirkland said. “Hospice house will be a home-like setting, so it won’t be institutional, and it will be staffed with people 24/7 who know about the end of life.”

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