Dr. Bob’s Place Brings Comfort and Care to Kids with Terminal Illnesses

By: Tracy M. Fitzgerald

Dr. Bob’s Place is a Baltimore-based program that provides palliative and hospice care for children with life-limiting conditions, named in honor of the late Robert Irwin, M.D. It was “Dr. Bob” who had the vision, years ago, to open a hospice facility centered around the needs of young patients, in partnership with Joseph Richey Hospice, where he served as a volunteer physician.

Ten years after his death, his vision became a reality. Dr. Bob’s Place opened in July 2011, as a project of Joseph Richey Hospice. Dr. Irwin’s memory is preserved by the center that dons his name, as well as the fact that his son, pediatrician John Irwin, M.D., serves as medical director today. The program, offering care for kids from age birth to 18, is recognized as the first in the country to feature an inpatient facility for children, as a licensed hospice provider.

The mission at Dr. Bob’s Place is fairly simple: maximize quality of life by managing pain and symptoms, and allow kids who are sick to stay at home, or in a “home-like” setting, for as long as possible. Recognizing that children are unique human beings, with little bodies that require treatment that it is quite different from what an adult would experience, the center practices an interdisciplinary clinical approach, combining medical care with emotional, psychosocial and spiritual support for patients and their families.

“We can’t change the outcome, but we can change the comfort level and give parents an opportunity to hug and snuggle with their kids,” said Charlotte Hawtin, executive director of Joseph Richey Hospice. “While we are caring for the patient, we are also doing a lot of things to help strengthen the connection between that child and his or her parent. What we do is a God-send for many families.”

Upon entering Dr. Bob’s Place, it is immediately clear that the center is designed to comfort and sooth children. Colorful murals, animal-themed furnishings, playrooms and large family gathering areas help welcome patients and their parents, and provide a “home away from home” for those requiring palliative or end-of-life care. Accommodations allow for one parent to live at Dr. Bob’s Place alongside their child.

“People have an amazing response to the environment,” said Janet Will, RNMS, and director of Dr. Bob’s Place. “It doesn’t feel like a hospital and everything you see is child-friendly. It’s very welcoming. In fact, some people don’t want to leave.”

Raising the necessary funds to open and operate Dr. Bob’s Place, a three-story, 20,800-square foot facility, was no small feat. A $4.5 million fundraising endeavor provided enough resources to open the facility, stock it and see it through the start-up phase. Fundraising efforts continue today, with goals to purchase more equipment, continuously recruit more staff, add furnishings and open a sensory room.

“Death is a natural part of life and is not something to be afraid of,” said Hawtin. “But we believe strongly that comfort is a right. Everything we do for our patients and their families is geared toward that.”

Pediatricians with patients requiring curative and palliative care concurrently can are refer patients to Dr. Bob’s Place by calling 410-523-1414. More information is available at www.drbobsplace.org.

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