PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The first hospice and palliative care facility in Aroostook County is one step closer to reality following the dedication of a five-acre parcel of land for the planned facility’s site.

Donated by Robert K. Irving, president of Cavendish Farms Operations, Inc., the Route 1 parcel is located just under three miles north of Presque Isle.

The planned $2.6 million, six-bed facility will be designed with state of the art and compassionate end-of-life care in mind, according to Rick Duncan, president of Aroostook Hospice Foundation.

“When a person is at the end of their life, there are benefits for staying at home and there are benefits to being in a hospital,” Duncan said Tuesday following the dedication. “In the hospital there is access to pain management medication and 24-hour care, [and] at home, there is the support of the family in a comfortable environment.”

The Aroostook House of Comfort, will combine the best of both, Duncan said.

“A hospice house brings both the aspects of the hospital and being at home together,” he said.

The facility will include patient suites where family members can stay with their loved ones, a family dining area, a children’s room, a non-denominational chapel, a spa room and an outdoor garden.

“Every suite will have sliding glass doors that open to the garden,” Duncan said. “Even the beds can be wheeled outside to a patio next to the garden.”

Raising funds is the next step for the group and Duncan said around $260,000 had already been raised.

“We want to raise enough for the facility and for the furnishings,” Duncan said. “We want to make this a turn-key project so when the health care provider comes in, it will be ready to go.”

Aroostook Hospice Foundation is currently negotiating with a county-based provider and hopes to finalize those arrangements within the next several weeks, he said.

For Duncan, the need for a hospice house in northern Maine is very real and very personal.

“When my mom lost her eight-year battle with breast cancer, she wanted to stay home,” he said. “She was in a tremendous amount of pain, and we had to get her into a hospital.”

Once at the hospital, policies and personnel conflicts produced pain-control issues for his mother.

“Hospitals are great,” Duncan said. “They take you in, get you well and send you home, [but] it was not until the hospice pharmacy talked to the hospital pharmacy that we got the appropriate medications.”

Over the 28 days his mother spent in the hospital, family members stayed with her, often sleeping in chairs next to her bed.

“It was not conducive for family involvement,” Duncan said. “It was not what she wanted.”

Following his mother’s death, Duncan said he began thinking about better ways to provide end of life care in northern Maine and started touring hospice facilities around the state and working toward establishing one in Aroostook County.

The only other such facilities in Maine are in Scarborough and Auburn, he said.

“Now we are concentrating on fundraising,” he said. “When we open is contingent on how fast we raise the funds.”

Construction can begin, Duncan said, as soon as half the needed funds are secured through donations, grants and government loans.

Once up and running, Aroostook Comfort House will be funded through a combination of Medicare, Medicaid, private insurers and endowments.

“Donation of the land was tremendously important,” Duncan said. “We wanted something centrally located to serve Houlton to Fort Kent, [and] this location was more than what we hoped for.”

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Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.