Lake Norman & Mooresville

Serenity House celebrates milestones

Serenity House, the first end-of-life comfort care home in North Carolina, reached two milestones last month: four years and 100 residents.

The home, part of the Carolina Comfort Coalition, is off Centre Church Road in Mooresville.

The coalition was formed in 2006 as a corporation for the development of three comfort care homes. The original model for a comfort care home was created in the 1980s by a Catholic church in Rochester, N.Y., that was caring for AIDS patients who were dying and without caregivers.

Executive Director Cheryl Pletcher said she discovered she loved the opportunity to touch lives in such a model when she started a comfort care home in Geneseo, N.Y. After she moved to North Carolina in 2001, she met other Northerners who, like her, wondered why there were no comfort care homes in this area.

A comfort care home is different from a hospice house. The latter has a team of medical professionals who provide medical care and can help the family through the end-of-life process. But a hospice house does not take patients whose families simply have become exhausted by the continuous caregiving their loved one needs. That's where a comfort care home comes in, bridging that gap.

So, with Pletcher leading, a small group of like-minded volunteers got together and set about making their dreams into a reality.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the home houses two beds, so typically residents come by referral. When a bed becomes available, the staff at Serenity House contacts families who are on a list provided by Hospice & Palliative Care of Iredell County.

The family then takes a tour of the home, and afterward the Serenity House staff visit the patient. Pletcher said the Mooresville area is their priority, but other factors also play into whether the patient and the home are a good fit.

"We are not able to handle some patients, for example, [those] over 210 pounds, (those) needing medical procedures such as injections and patients needing complex medical equipment," she said.

Families and patients who want a natural, peaceful end to life, rather than a return to the hospital, can inquire about placement in Serenity House by speaking with their hospice nurse or social worker. The average stay at Serenity House is about one month, although the staff asks physicians for a prognosis of three months.

"Hospices call us when they have a patient whose family has become overwhelmed or exhausted," Pletcher said, "and need to be moved from the home" but don't fit the hospice patient profile. "Our volunteers and staff take over the family care - shelter and personal care - for a three-month timeframe at no charge."

Because all the services are offered free to residents and their families, fundraising is crucial. Pletcher said the facility depends on the community for financial resources, as well as for such household resources as coffee and paper towels.

On Nov. 19, a Black & White Masquerade Gala at the Charles Mack Citizen Center in downtown Mooresville will benefit Serenity House. The event begins at 6:30 p.m. and includes entertainment, a silent auction and a "Taste of Mooresville" menu, catered by area restaurants. The event is open to the public, and admission is free. Advance reservations are required, however; for reservations call Serenity House at 704-664-2004.

Pletcher says the goal of Serenity House is to "bridge the gap for hospice families." Although hospice provides a team of medical professionals to assist families through the end-of-life process, it can't help if it's just that the family of the patient has become exhausted with caregiving. That's where a comfort care home comes in.

"The care is generally simple," Pletcher said, "like taking care of someone sick at your house. Our families are appreciative of the attentive care and feel the love. We provide the care with volunteers from the community. The care comes from the heart."

For information on Serenity House and the Carolina Comfort Coalition, visit www.carolinacomfortcoalition.org and for information on the Black & White Masquerade Gala or to reserve tickets, 704-664-2004.

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