How St. Hildegard inspired this nurse’s care for the dying
Published by U.S. Catholic on February 2, 2023
“I just wanted someone to listen,” said the shirtless man propped on pillows in a hospital bed, his voice cracking and eyes welling as an oxygen tank hissed and clicked at regular intervals to aid his labored breathing. A woman volunteer spooned red Jell-O and a pill into his mouth, waiting patiently as he swallowed before preparing another dose.
The patient, called a resident by his caregivers, had bounced from one health care facility to another before finding a home at Hildegard House in Louisville, Kentucky. Although he was once a local hospital medical director and psychiatrist, Tony Siegel said he fell through a hole in this country’s end-of-life health care safety net. Hospitals, designed for only short-term, acute care, were not an option after his diagnosis of metastatic cancer. Due to divorce he didn’t have family to care for him at home or the financial resources to hire 24/7 care, a necessary condition for most hospice programs.
Fortunately for Siegel, one of his high school classmates now sat in a chair at his bedside, listening. Karen Cassidy, a former palliative care nurse, founded in 2016 the only “comfort care” home in Kentucky and one of only 100 in the United States, according to Omega Home Network, a membership organization of community homes for the dying. As soon as the doctor moved into one of three bedrooms in Cassidy’s repurposed Ursuline convent, he said he was respected—and heard—by staff and volunteers, who he called “angels on my shoulders.” Cassidy adds: “ ‘Listening with the ear of our heart’ is what we do here.”
Read the rest of the article about the compassionate ministry of Loretto co-member Karen Cassidy here.