Letter to Friends of Sojourn Center, May 6, 2020

May 6, 2020

Dear Friends of Sojourn Center,

The leadership of Sojourn Center for Hospice Care has been quite active. We write to review for you our activity and where the Sojourn Center project currently stands.  We appreciate very much your interest and your support of the project.  You’ve offered invaluable advice and encouragement.

First, let us restate our basic premise and purpose: Most Americans would like to die at home—in a comfortable and familiar place—not in a hospital or a nursing home. But only 25% do. When a terminally ill patient requires acute medical care that the home or nursing home no longer can provide, hospitalization is the only existing choice in the New River Valley.

At Sojourn Center, we believe everyone deserves exceptional end-of-life care that provides comfort, support, and dignity. Sojourn Center for Hospice Care will honor, celebrate, and lovingly support a person’s final passage. Leaving a legacy of peace and comfort is a gift to those left behind. Honoring the dying also promotes a community culture of respect and compassion.

Sojourn Center for Hospice Care will be a state of the art, medical center in a home-like environment to serve the terminally ill and their families. The in-patient hospice house will be staffed by medical experts in end-of-life care. There are no such hospice houses anywhere in the New River Valley—none anywhere in Western Virginia. Only 10 exist throughout the state of Virginia.  North Carolina, in sharp contrast, has 41. Sojourn Center will add an important—even necessary—service to the region’s healthcare.  

Sojourn Center planning has made considerable progress.  We have engaged a capital development firm for advice about a future capital campaign. Twenty-seven acres of land donated by Roger Woody located between Warm Hearth Village and LewisGale Hospital Montgomery in Blacksburg is available for the hospice house site. A nationally recognized hospice house architect is working with us. In 2019 to early 2020, we explored the acquisition of an existing property that could have been renovated for a hospice house. Members of the executive committee invested personal funds for an option to purchase, but after further consideration and the unfolding of events, we declined the option.

In order to move ahead, Sojourn Center for Hospice Care must engage a hospice agency as the clinical and administrative operator of the hospice house. The Virginia Department of Health regulations require that a licensed hospice agency that offers full services must medically operate any hospice in-patient facility. Finding a local hospice agency that will partner with Sojourn Center in this endeavor is where we are stymied. We’ve had serious discussions with the two nonprofit hospice agencies in our region but they have each declined. The primary reason for their declining was financial.  In addition, one of the agencies felt strongly that if they were to move forward with plans for a hospice facility, Roanoke would be their preferred location.  Even though Sojourn Center will conduct the capital campaign to raise the money to build the 6 – 10 bed facility and some additional monies for operations, the operating hospice agency would be financially responsible for the furnishings and equipment in the building and covering operational cost that go beyond what Medicare/Medicaid/insurance will pay.  Hospice houses are not moneymaking operations; the operator must have a significant mission mindset and take on active annual fundraising to make a hospice house financially feasible.  Sojourn Center would also engage in annual fundraising.  The culture in Virginia and especially southwest Virginia shows a lower use of hospice by families than the national statistic where 46% of deaths are serviced by hospice care.  According to national hospice network information, the lower use of hospice services in a region can be increased with the presence of a “brick and mortar” hospice house in a community as well as an active educational campaign about hospice services.

Needless to say, the local hospice agencies refusals have not only disappointed us but have left us with some decisions to make. Do we pull back and work hard to educate our community about the importance of hospice services and a hospice house to change the hospice culture before moving forward?  Do we search outside of our geographic area to engage another hospice agency to come into the New River Valley?  We have had preliminary discussions with a North Carolina based hospice agency which provides hospice services in Virginia—as near as Floyd and Pulaski counties.  That agency already operates 2 hospice houses – one with 6 beds and one with 20 beds with a large patient census to support the hospice houses.

The Covid-19 crisis and the rapid economic decline across the country not only complicates our situation but effectively blocks further progress for a while. Even if we were fortunate enough to engage an operator, which seems very unlikely in the current environment, we could not sensibly initiate a capital campaign at this immediate time. It might be a year or more before the financial environment makes it practical.

We are not giving up, despite the obstacles.  We appreciate your ongoing support and will keep you informed as things progress.


Sojourn Center Executive Committee

Anne J. Campbell, President, Board of Directors

Fred Carlisle

Rick DiSalvo

Ed Spencer, Vice President

Bob Sterrett, Recording Secretary