Hospice Home, Babish Lane: An Honor Befitting

Written by Holly Ruppel

Standing before a small table in her Russellville home, Dorothy Babish carefully picks up a framed photograph and regards it with a mixture of admiration, love and restrained emotion.

The distinguished man beaming back at her from the aging paper is her late husband, John A. Babish.

Babish’s eyes light up as she recalls a fond memory, and replacing the photograph with the other neatly arranged photos and sympathy cards on the memorial table, she begins to tell one of countless stories about her husband of 36 years.

Babish, who is originally from California, met her husband in the late 1960s while she was working in an insurance agent’s office. The future Mrs. Babish met John near the beginning of his 38- year career in the insurance agency. They married soon after and, following John’s retirement, moved to Russellville in 1996 after visiting friends in Center Valley and falling in love with the area.

Even though the couple enjoyed the community, they moved back to California to be closer to family after John suffered a heart attack. But California didn’t feel like home anymore.

“You can never go home again,” Babish said, acknowledging she and John never felt right about moving from Arkansas and longed to return.

“We missed the Arkansas way of life,” Babish said.

The couple moved back to Russellville in 2000 and returned to their peaceful, small town life. John was doing really well, Babish said.

But when Dorothy Babish was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2005, the effect of her illness on her husband was manifest.

“It really brought him down,” she said.

Dorothy’s three daughters soon realized that John needed assistance caring for their mother, so they began a two-week rotation of trips to Russellville. He began having heart problems shortly after that time.

Babish and her daughters soon faced a difficult decision, to move John back to California so he would be closer to family or place him a local rest home, where he would receive constant care.

After careful consideration, Babish and her daughters decided to place John in a rest home in Dardanelle. He died two weeks later while in hospice care with Arkansas Hospice.

Babish didn’t realize it at the time, but her involvement with the hospice care system was only beginning.

Her connection to hospice was reinforced when she was asked to serve on the board of Arkansas Hospice in Little Rock in 1996. At first, Babish said, her heart was set on serving and volunteering in Russellville, but she prayed about it and decided it was right for her to serve on the Little Rock board.

“I didn’t know why they had chosen me to serve on the Arkansas Hospice board at that time,” Babish said of her surprise at being asked to serve as a member.

Then, one of her daughters called her in 2008 and informed her there would be a dedication of the land for a new hospice home in Russellville.

Babish said her daughter told her, “They were so good to you, and Pop, too.”

She wanted to contribute to the home’s completion, so Babish set out to help raise the funds necessary for the home’s construction, serving on the capital campaign committee tirelessly organizing fund raisers and asking community members and businesses for donations.

Babish claims little credit for her role in raising the $2.5 million necessary to build the home.

“I don’t want any credit for myself,” she said.

She gives most of the credit to Jim Bob Humphrey, chair of the capital campaign committee for the Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home.

“He’s like the Rock of Gibraltar,” she said. “I can’t take the credit without him.”

Babish said it’s important to have a hospice home in Russellville because hospice patients and their families should have a closer option. That relieves some of the stress, she said, and takes the strain off of families caring for their terminally ill loved ones.

“So many people have to drive to Little Rock,” she said.

Babish said the decision to put John in hospice care was difficult because when she thought about hospice before John’s illness, she thought about death – that going into hospice meant dying.

“That’s exactly the outlook people have,” Rhonda Horton, Program Director for Arkansas Hospice, said.

Horton stressed the importance of patients living their last days to the fullest.

“It’s not about dying,” she said. “It’s about living.”

Horton said even when there is not quantity of life, there can still be quality of life.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), hospice is “the model for quality compassionate care for people facing a life-limiting illness” and “provides expert medical care, pain management, and emotional and spiritual support expressly tailored to the patient’s needs and wishes.”

Horton said hospice is for people with a life-limiting illness who are to the point when they’re in the hospital more than they’re home, when treatments are no longer an option and they have to make the decision to have quality time with their loved ones for whatever time they have left.

Hospice offers comfort care rather than curative care and is intended to make patients and their families more comfortable during the patient’s final days of life.

Home-based hospice care is given in the patient’s personal home or a nursing home and the patient’s relatives and a group of trained professionals, including CNA, RN case manager, bereavement counselor, chaplain and a medical director work together to provide care for the patient.

“The patient and the family are involved in the plan of care development,” Horton said. Trained hospice staff is on-call 24/7 to care for patients and provide support for family members (NHPCO).

The Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home will offer management of pain or symptoms that cannot be managed effectively in a patient’s home setting. The 7,000-square-foot eight-patient room facility will also provide a place for patients who are imminently dying and cannot be cared for at home.

The home features eight private patient bedrooms, a kitchen where families can prepare and eat meals, a family room, a chapel and a garden.

Horton said the facility will have a “home- like” feel, with the aim to be as comfortable as possible for patients and their families. In the most difficult times in life, she said, that comfort is even more important. Patient rooms will also feature comfortable furnishings so that family members may stay with their loved ones.

The Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home is expected to be completed by next year, Horton said, with organizers anticipating a late spring or early summer opening.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” Phyllis Bewley, a member of the capital campaign committee, said of the hospice home’s near completion.

Bewley acknowledged Babish’s efforts in the completion of the home.

She has worked diligently,” Bewley said. “She’s just never given up. She’s been determined that we’re going to have it “the hospice home” here in the River Valley.”

Babish is thankful hospice was there to provide care and support when she, John and their family needed it most and she is proud to be a part of the hospice system and in seeing the home to its completion.

“I felt like the Lord had a purpose in me being there,” she said.

After John’s death, Babish said, there were a lot of tears, but she has managed to turn a negative experience into something positive – something to help people when they need help most and something to help her move forward.

“Through the grace of the Lord,” she said, “we have to go on.”

The Arkansas Hospice River Valley Home will be located at 220 John Babish Lane, named in honor of Babish’s late husband. For Babish, this fact is befitting her husband and his memory.

“My husband was the type,” she said, “I don’t think he had an enemy.”

When asked how her husband would feel about the hospice home being built in Russellville, she said, “He’d be right in there with me. He wanted to help others, not himself.”

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