The time leading up to the death of a family member or friend suffering from illness can be chaotic. Hospital or nursing home visits, consultations with doctors, planning funeral arrangements.
“It's loud, it's noisy. It's not a peaceful transition all of the time,” said Norma Gravitt Poindexter.
Poindexter would know, she currently works in a Level 1 Trauma Center in Atlanta, and sees death regularly.
“The homeless people especially, who don't have any family, I take it upon myself to make sure I'm there with them when they pass. I want them to be peaceful,” she said. “That's why I'm starting this hospice. Everyone needs a peaceful death if they can have it.”
Poindexter is spearheading the effort to build Hospice House Shalom on West Henry Street on Sedalia's north side. The organization is a 501(c)3 nonprofit designed to give those who aren't able to die at home a place to go.
“We named it Hospice House Shalom because we wanted people to know, and for us to reminded, that this is for people who need peace in their last weeks of life,” she said. “It's something that's needed in Sedalia, that's needed everywhere really.”
Poindexter was born and raised in Sedalia, attending Sacred Heart grade school and State Fair Community College, where she received her associate's degree in nursing. Her husband played football for Smith-Cotton High School and despite moving to Marietta in 2002, Poindexter said Sedalia has always been thought of as home.
“My dad passed away of cancer in 1996 and before he passed I told him I would go all the way in school and do better in my life,” she said. “I had made some choices, had a lot of challenges, but I promised him I would get a good education because he worked so hard to send (my siblings and I) to Sacred Heart.”
Poindexter kept her promise — in August she'll receive her doctorate degree in nursing — and it was reflecting on her father's death that gave her the idea of a hospice house.
“My dad passed at home,” she said. “We actually didn't have any hospice workers there because all my sisters were nurses, but he was in his lounge chair, surrounded by family when he went.
“That's what I want for Sedalia, to be able to have that loving, peaceful death.”
Currently there are two hospice services in Sedalia, through Bothwell Regional Health Center and Crossroads, but no specific house for hospice clients. In fact, there are no hospice houses within nearly 70 miles of Sedalia, Poindexter said.
“We're not trying to take over all hospice services,” she added. “We want to work with Bothwell and Crossroads, along with doctors and family members to make sure these transitions from this world to the next are smooth.”
The house will feature 10 rooms for clients, as well as a large kitchen where meals will be provided by staff. After hearing concerns from neighbors, Poindexter said a large privacy fence will also be built around the house, and the grounds will be kept up.
“We want this to be a welcoming, comforting place,” she said. “So often, in the last few weeks or days of a person's life that's all they want, a little comfort.”
Helping Poindexter are her niece Marquita Davis, and her sister, Estella Frazier, who have 20 and 47 years of working in the nursing field, respectively.
“Being in the nursing field for so long, I see what families are going through when their loved one is dying,” Frazier said. “To take care of them too, they're just exhausted. They can't enjoy those last days together because they're so worried about other things.”
Frazier said hospice can provide the physical care and emotional support for clients and their families.
Poindexter said she knows there may be some neighbors who don't like the idea of a hospice on their street. During Monday's Sedalia City Council meeting some residents expressed concern the hospice would cause property values to decrease, that it would be a medical facility, but Poindexter maintains Hospice House Shalom will not “bring down the neighborhood.”
“We won't have sirens coming to the house, we won't store narcotics,” she said. “I understand people's fears about hospice, no one likes to talk or think about death, but this isn't a hospital or nursing home. This is a place where people who have less than 30 days to live can die in dignity, with people who care for them around them.”
Poindexter has owned the land on West Henry Street for more than a decade.
“The company that cuts the grass has been quite happy, making money off me for the last 11 years,” she joked. “So when I started thinking about building Hospice House Shalom, I thought 'I have these empty lots, I should use them for this.' I want to put something in on the north side, to improve it.”
Financials area also on Poindexter's mind. Hospice House Shalom will take about $500,000 to build and currently she's seeking grants and donations for the funding. Poindexter is registered with the state of Missouri and has opened an account at Third National Bank for those wishing to donate.
“As a nonprofit anyone who donates can receive tax credits,” she added. “I'm looking for volunteers too, not only to help with the hospice itself, sitting with families and maybe helping with meals, but also people who will do maintenance or mow the yard.”
The house will have regular staff who will handle medications and paperwork, but volunteers are needed to help round out the needs of Hospice House Shalom, Poindexter said.
“We don't want someone's ability to pay affect them coming here,” she said. “Your paycheck or how much you have in savings shouldn't affect your peaceful transition. We want to be able to welcome all people.”
Poindexter said she hopes to break ground in May and that an excavating company has already agreed to donate the expense of dirt work needed.
“I want to leave a legacy for my children, something for them to carry on,” she said. “But more than that, I want to leave a legacy for Sedalia. No one likes to talk about death, no one wants to hear about it. But one day we will all face this some way or another. Hospice House Shalom can help.”
For more information about Hospice House Shalom or donation information, Poindexter can be reached at 404-630-3520.