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Hopewell House Reaches Milestone

[Posted August 27, 2021]

Friends of Hopewell House and Legacy Health have agreed to terms allowing the purchase of the hospice located in Hillsdale to proceed. Fundraising continues toward the goal of re-opening the doors of Portland's only dedicated end-of-life care facility as early as March of 2022.

In 2019, Legacy Health announced the closure of Hopewell House. A grassroots nonprofit, Friends of Hopewell House (FHH), formed almost immediately to rally supporters and raise money to buy the house from Legacy and re-open the facility. After two years of negotiations and fundraising, the purchase agreement represents a huge step toward re-opening the doors.

Since the group’s formation in September 2019, FHH has raised $2.8 million in private donations and grant funds toward their goal of $5 million. The total sum will allow them to re-open, but ongoing funding will be needed to sustain operations. They plan to meet the financial needs to stay open through additional grants, insurance payments, and further charitable contributions.

Legacy has been supportive, say FHH representatives, and has reduced the price on the property to $2.65 million, donating $1 million to make up the total purchase price. Legacy has also allowed FFH ongoing access and use of the building.

Same Philosophy, New Financial Model

When Legacy closed Hopewell House, it cited decreasing insurance funding for hospice care and a growing desire among the terminally ill to die at home. FHH supporters see a continuing need for residential end-of-life care, and advocates point out that for some people it's not feasible to stay at home at the end of life. Those who live on their own, for example, or who come to Portland for medical care and then receive a terminal diagnosis, may not have the option of home hospice. Small homes may not provide enough space for family and caregivers. Pain management or other medical needs can be difficult for family members to handle on their own and home hospice medical providers are not on site 24 hours a day, contributing to increased stress and anxiety for caregivers. Sometimes a frail spouse is responsible for caring for a dying partner at home, often at the expense of their own health.

In order to fulfill their mission of caring for the dying and their families, FHH acknowledged early on the need for a new financial model. They found one in Celia's House in Medford, a residential hospice run by the Southern Oregon Friends of Hospice that pioneered a new type of Medicaid contract which provides a higher level of reimbursement.

Susan Hearn, former executive director of Celia's House, has been brought on board to fill that same role at Hopewell House. She is, she says, on a mission to expand residential hospice care: "It’s a gap in care and residential hospice needs to be more widely available.”

The new Hopewell House will operate under this innovative “collaborative” model which will allow it to provide the 24-hour care that a family might typically provide while patients receive medical care from visiting hospice providers. Under the previous system, only Legacy patients were eligible to receive care at Hopewell House, resulting in too few patients to provide financial stability. Under the new model, anyone can be admitted for care regardless of insurance coverage and many different organizations will be able to provide care and refer patients.

The Roots of Hospice in Hillsdale

Joan Buell, Friends of Hopewell House president founded the facility, first called Hospice House, in 1986. Buell, a teacher at Catlin Gabel at the time, became interested in the hospice concept after teaching a class called Birth, Death, and Sexuality. She later signed up to volunteer at the St. Christopher Hospice in London, England, for several weeks over the winter of 1979-80. During her time at St. Christopher, she says, "I began to really have a sense of dying not being the very worst thing that could happen, and sometimes it’s the best thing."

She came home to Portland committed to sharing what she had learned about hospice and soon began to develop the idea that would become Hopewell House.

Recounts Buell: "By 1980 five or six of us just decided to incorporate, not really knowing what we would do with it. So we began to hunt for a place. I can remember Gwen Allen, she was one of the founders of Realty Group. She was on our board. She, wonderfully, always wore incredibly high spiked heels, no matter what surfaces she was walking on. She heard about this place [the house in Hillsdale]. When we drove up that driveway, it was one of those revelatory moments--I just knew it was going to work."

As Buell tells it, Allen located the perfect property and then negotiated a donation for a portion of the purchase price with the descendants of the original residents, Walt and Amy Heningsen. Walt and Amy had been gone for years, but the house had not always been empty: "A group of airline pilots had rented it for a while," she says, "and there were marks from champagne corks in the ceiling of the living room. So they had wild parties there, I suspect."

Hospice House opened in 1987 and was eventually renamed Hopewell House. It was managed by a few different organizations until Legacy took it over in 2004.

Saving Hopewell House

Buell continued to work at Hopewell House for many years, both as an administrator and then as a volunteer, but she had been retired for some time when Legacy announced the closure. Now she finds herself at a similar place as back in 1980, rallying the forces and raising money. Her cohort this time includes scores of people with a personal history at Hopewell House, as volunteers, staff members, community members, or friends and family of those who died there.

Christine Pavlyk is among those currently working to re-open Hopewell House. She lives across the street in a house that she suspects is very closely related to the former Heningsen home and where, she says, the band Everclear recorded all their albums (she bought the house from the band's bass player).

Pavlyk moved into her home about 15 years ago and soon became curious about the place across the street called Hopewell House that seemed to receive a lot ambulance traffic. She visited and was given a tour. "It’s a magical place," she says now. "It’s hard to describe, you have to be there to understand. It’s not scary, it’s peaceful. I’m not a spiritual person, but there’s something magic about that place."

So when Pavlyk learned of the closure, she was upset and took to social media to see what people were saying. Within hours she received hundreds of responses from people similarly upset at the closure. Among the messages she received was one from someone who said his mother had founded Hopewell House, and the next morning at 6am Pavlyk was meeting with Buell. Soon after that Pavlyk was hosting more than 30 people on her deck who had shown up in response to a NextDoor post advertising a meeting to do something about the closure.

Pavlyk now sits on the Friends of Hopewell House executive committee and was the organizing force behind the Stream of Hope virtual concert fundraiser that raised over $60,000 this past March. In addition to its success as a fundraiser, the event earned a nod as runner up in the virtual fundraiser category in the Willamette Week Best of Portland 2021.

--Valeurie Friedman


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