Hildegard House allows the helpless to die with dignity
By Mariah Kline
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
It takes an exceptional person to work with those in poor health. It takes an even more exceptional person to work with those who are dying. The team at Hildegard House is made up of just such individuals who provide care and support for those who have no one else.
Hildegard House is Kentucky’s first and only comfort care home. The house welcomed its first resident in July 2016, and since then, 70 people have lived out their final days there. The institution is named after Hildegard of Bingen, a German Benedictine abbess who lived in the 12th century. Hildegard was famous for her work in herbal medicine, which allowed her to treat those in need of medical attention and end-of-life care.
Executive Director Karen Cassidy previously worked as a nurse practitioner in a palliative care unit, where she met countless individuals who were unable to receive hospice care. Her experience in medicine and passion for hospitality led her to start Hildegard House.
“The people who live here come from such sad circumstances – either they’ve always lived alone or they have nobody to care for them,” she says. “Some of them are homeless. When we provide them with care at the end of their lives, a lot of them aren’t used to that kind of attention. We try to get them the food they like and (play) the songs they like, and we’re with them so that nobody is alone at the end of their life.”
In just three years, Cassidy and the organization have already received national recognition for their efforts. In 2018, Hildegard House won the Monroe E. Trout Premier Cares Award, which honors organizations that are working to improve the health of populations in need. The same year, Cassidy won AARP’s Purpose Prize, which honors individuals age 50 and over who are making an impact.
“It’s a confirmation that we’re a worthwhile organization, and we’re doing something purposeful,” she says. “The (AARP award) is a year-long award, and they have given me a lot of coaching, resources and workshops through the whole year, which has been really helpful for us.”
Since Hildegard House is a nonprofit and not a licensed medical facility, the setting mimics that of a private residence where someone would receive hospice care. Each resident has their own hospice team with a nurse, nurse’s aide, chaplain and social worker. A team of 42 volunteers – called compassionate companions – receive extensive training and work in five-hour shifts every week. Their duties consist of cooking meals, doing laundry and sitting with residents, just as a family member would for an ailing loved one.
The Hildegard House building was previously a convent for Ursuline sisters who taught at the nearby St. Joseph School. It then served as a daycare and sat empty for four years upon the center’s closing. Inside, major renovations on the building were conducted by Mark Clore of Clore Construction, who donated time and materials to complete the massive project. Outside, a vast garden is maintained by master gardeners so residents may enjoy its beauty from indoors or outdoors.
After someone dies at Hildegard House, the staff and volunteers hold a service in remembrance of that person. Thanks to this dedicated group and their noble mission, each person who passes through their doors receives astounding comfort and support in their final days.
“Dying is just a part of living,” says Cassidy. “We’ve medicalized birth and death, but in the past, those two events happened in peoples’ homes. For me, when I’m around people who are getting close to the end of their lives and then they die, it’s a constant reminder of how precious life is.” V
How to Support Hildegard House
Give to Hildegard House during Give For Good Louisville on Sept. 12
Hit It for Hildegard Annual Golf Scramble
Presented by Republic Bank and Architecture Concrete
Oct. 4 at Heritage Hill Golf Club
To donate or learn more, contact Karen Cassidy at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 502.797.7411