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Black-owned hospice seeks to bring greater ease in dying to Black families

Blake Farmer, Nashville Public Radio on

Published in News & Features

This time, it didn’t take much persuading for Mary Murphy to embrace home hospice. When her mother was dying from Alzheimer’s disease in 2020, she had been reluctant until she saw what a help it was. So when her husband, Willie, neared the end of his life, she embraced hospice again.

The Murphys’ house in a leafy Nashville neighborhood is their happy place — full of their treasures.

“He’s good to me — buys me anything I want,” she said, as she pulled a milky glass vase out of a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with mirrored shelves.

Willie bought Mary the display case to help her to show off the trinkets she picks up at estate sales.

Down the hall, Willie was lying in their bed, now unable to speak. His heart was giving out.

“You gonna wake up for a minute?” she asked, cradling his head. She patted his back while he cleared his throat. “Cough it out.”

 

Mary had been the primary caregiver for her husband, but she gets help from a new hospice agency in Nashville focused on increasing the use of end-of-life comfort care by Black families. Heart and Soul Hospice is owned and operated by people who share the same cultural background as the patients they aim to serve.

In their application to obtain a certificate of need in Tennessee, the hospice owners made it clear they are Black and intend to serve everyone but will focus on African Americans, who are currently underserved. Tennessee data shows that in Nashville just 19% of hospice patients are Black although they make up 27% of the capital city’s population.

Though the area already had numerous hospice agencies, regulators granted Heart and Soul permission to operate, based primarily on the value of educating an underserved group.

In Murphy’s first hospice experience, her mother had been living with dementia for decades. Still, Murphy had concerns about transitioning her mother to hospice. She felt as if she was giving up on her mom.

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