Hospice Ministries of Central Mississ-ippi celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Suzannah Britt, the group’s executive director, has worked in various roles with the nonprofit, and recently reflected on the group in an interview with the Sun. Britt is a graduate of Co-Lin Community College and the University of Southern Mississi-ppi. Prior to joining Hospice, she served as an oncology nurse with Baptist Hospital.
What made you want to go into hospice?
“The story I tell is seeing the hospice nurse. She came into Baptist Hospital one night, and I was touched by the amount of time she got to spend with the families and the relationships she had with them. That set me on a quest that this was what I wanted to do with my nursing career.”
So, you quit Baptist and joined Hospice Ministries?
“I had to have some home health experience. I did that for about a year and a half. Then, in August 2001, I became patient care coordinator for our Brookhaven office. I served in that role for 13 years. Then, I became director of clinical services, still with Hospice. I served in that role for three years and have been executive director for two.
“To me, there’s a uniqueness about the mission of Hospice Ministries. Our core is to take care of patients, regardless of their ability to pay. Everyone deserves a quality end of life experience.”
Knowing you’re serving people who are at the end of life, is that discouraging?
“We get asked that a lot, is it discouraging or is it depressing. It’s emotional, but it’s one of the most rewarding things, because we help patients and families refocus on what’s really important. The beauty of seeing families reconcile or make special memories, the opportunities for families have to enjoy a loved one’s final days … that is our goal.”
How long is a patient’s typical stay with Hospice?
“That varies. The Medicare hospice benefit is for someone facing life-limiting illness who has six months or less. We may have patients who are with us for hours. We have some who are with us longer than six months.
“Hospice Ministries is often identified by our in-patient facilities, but our ministry is so much more. The majority of the care we provide is actually in-home, through our visiting service. We have relationships with nursing homes, assisted living facilities, local hospitals, if patients are too sick to move home.”
How many people do you serve on an annual basis?
“We serve 1,000 families. There is no limit on how many we serve, as long as they’re in the geographic region for home care. We do have a waiting list for our in-patient facility. The McRae Foundation funded for us in December an expansion and remodel of a suite that had been closed. As part of our 30th anniversary celebration, we’ll be opening 10 additional beds.”
When will those beds open?
“Mid-October, after our open house celebration on October 17, we will begin admitting patients to those additional beds.”
What has changed about hospice since you got involved?
“The growth of the hospice industry. Now there are more than 100 companies that offer hospice in Mississippi … Our challenge is how we stay true to Hospice Ministries as we try to compete in an aggressive market in the hospice industry.”
What services does your ministry provide?
“First and foremost, our in-home care. We very much focus on the individual needs of patients and families. Whether a patient needs an increase in nursing visits, hospice aid visits or social chaplain support, we (offer) an individual plan to that patient. We provide hospice services in multiple care locations, as well as provide one of the few in-patient facilities in Central Mississippi … We also provide services through the McClean Fletcher Center, which cares for children ages four to 18 who have suffered a significant loss of someone in their lives.”
How many people do you have on staff?
“We have 130 employees.”
How are you funded?
“Our services are reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid and commercial insurance, but there is a gap, so we have tremendous community support. We could not operate and provide the level of services without contributions. First and foremost, many of the families we care for leave memorials. We have many foundations and individuals who support us annually. Last year, we provided over $400,000 in uncompensated care.”
Do you accept every patient that comes in?
“If they meet the criteria spelled out by the Medicare guidelines, yes.”
What areas do you serve, geographically speaking?
“We have an in-home care location in Ridgeland and an in-home care location in Brookhaven. We serve a 50-mile radius with each office – it’s 23 counties.”
What’s next for Hospice Ministries?
“We’ve tried to, as funding has allowed, to take each part of our in-patient hospice center and make it more home-like. Being nonprofit, that comes a little slower. But we’ve been very fortunate to have community support. We hope to update our courtyard and expand our nursing station. Those are probably the next two projects. We just recently completed a new roof for our facility and that was a huge project for us. We’re very thankful – we have had leaks for many years. We updated our family rooms and created family kitchens. We also converted a storage room into a kids’ playroom. We have no restricted hours. People can come 24 hours a day, we even allow pets to visit. It creates a unique and special environment for our patients.”
If people want more information on the open house, what do they need to do?
“There is information on our website, or they can call our office at (601) 898-1053. We would love for the community to come out and tour our new unit and see the improvements.”