SMITHFIELD — Note: As part of N.C. Nonprofit Awareness Month, the Herald is profiling nonprofits in the community. (A previous story incorrectly referred to November as National Nonprofit Awareness Month.)
When Kathleen Patella entered the SECU Hospice House with her dying mother, she felt like she was walking through the gates of heaven.
At first, Patella was worried she had made the wrong choice for her mom. But when she walked through the doors, those worries faded away. “This is the most comfortable, wonderful, peaceful place she could ever imagine,” Patella said.
The SECU Hospice House, part of Johnston Health, is located just behind Johnston Medical Center in Smithfield. The 18 beds are for terminally ill patients whose doctors say they have no more than six months to live. The program also provides in-home hospice care to up to 10 patients.
The roughly 50 volunteers make all of the difference. Patella described them as angels who are quiet and calming and always bring cheer. “They’re so wonderful because they understand,” she said. “A lot of them here have been in this same situation.”
Dean Hocutt, known as Bertha at the Hospice House, is one of those volunteers. The 70-year-old helps out every Wednesday and Saturday morning and has the most volunteer hours of anyone there.
The first thing Hocutt does every visit is make sure the patients have fresh cold water. “I lost my first husband 20 years ago, and we didn’t have anything like the Hospice House then,” she said. Hocutt and her family had to travel to Chapel Hill, she said.
“And that last night he was here on Earth, I do not know what he asked for,” Hocutt said. “He might not have asked for anything, but it’s always bothered me. What did he ask for? The last thing? And he didn’t get it because there was nobody there to give it to him.”
“If I can be the one who gives someone their last drink of water, it will be well worth my time,” Hocutt said. “That’s why I volunteer.”
Hocutt wishes her husband could have had hospice care but is thankful it’s available now. Her two brothers and sister all had hospice care in their final days. Her sister’s name, Shirley Holley, is engraved on the memorial tree at the SECU Hospice House, and Hocutt feels closer to her by volunteering.
Earlier this year, Hocutt’s current husband became ill with diabetes. She almost had to stop volunteering but said she couldn’t stay away. Hocutt said she looks forward to her volunteer hours each week.
Kristin Lassiter, volunteer coordinator for the SECU Hospice House, said volunteers like Hocutt make the difference “between accessing what needs to be accessed and accessing all that could be.” That extra work includes things such as brushing a patient’s hair, reading to patients or making coffee for a family.
Volunteers also make care packages for new patients that include handmade quilts. Outside is a fountain and bench, with soothing scenery all around. Hocutt said the staff and volunteers try to make it “almost like home.”
Patella brought her mother to the Hospice House after doctors said her mother, Jeanne Bryant, wasn’t going to get better. Bryant turned 86 on Halloween
Patella said the house is beautiful, a God-given gift. “I absolutely know I have made the right decision,” she said.