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Hospice Home In Hammond Provides Alternative End-Of-Life Care

Donna Landry, executive director of the Richard Murphy Hospice House, and staff member Darick Selders, work to make patients comfortable during their last days of life.
Tegan Wendland
Donna Landry, executive director of the Richard Murphy Hospice House, and staff member Darick Selders, work to make patients comfortable during their last days of life.

On a quiet little cul-de-sac in Hammond, there is a special place where people go to die. The Richard Murphy Hospice House offers an alternative to the clinical setting of a nursing home for people during their last days of life.

The Richard Murphy House is named after a local businessman who passed away 32 years ago after being diagnosed with cancer in his 40s. His friends and family provided an informal hospice service for him in his home, and when he died the community raised money in order to start a hospice in his name.

Hospice care is non-curative end of life care. At Richard Murphy, nurses don’t administer curative medications but do provide pain medications.

“We make sure that they’re very comfortable, where you don't have pain, that if any issues arrive that they're taken care of, and to make sure that the last days are very comfortable and peaceful,” says nurse and administrator Donna Landry.

The hospice is free, though the facility only has three beds, and always has a long wait-list. Landry said she wishes they could provide for more people in need. “We have homeless people that have been here. People whose children maybe live out of state. So the house has been a true blessing.” About 358 people have passed away at the home.

An 87-year-old patient named Lou, who preferred only her first name be used here, has been at the hospice center for several weeks. She said as a resident of Hammond she had known about the center for many years, but never thought she would be a patient there.

Lou said it did not make sense to her to pursue treatment for her cancer, “I have just let nature take its course… One day I’ll probably go to sleep and that’s it. I have had time to get my stuff together like my great grandmother’s spoon holder, which can go to a niece, and the silver has been parceled out... so I’m perfectly content.”

Credit Tegan Wendland / WWNO
The non-profit Richard Murphy House in Hammond aims to offer a peaceful alternative to the clinical atmosphere of traditional nursing homes. They can accommodate three people at a time, free of charge.

Lou says she was very comfortable, in part because she was free to make her own choices and felt supported by staff. “I don’t know where they find the personnel but they are the nicest people I’ve ever known," she says. "They must be beautifully trained, they've all been here for years and the patient is taken care of beautifully.”

Landry said providing freedom and independence for their clients is one of the center’s main goals. “I want to make sure that they are doing what they want to do, and that they are making their own decisions if they can. If they need pain medicine I don’t want the family to tell them they can’t have it because they don’t want them to get addicted,” she explains.  

Landry says the house was designed to be comfortable and relaxing, with dark-toned walls and a beautifully landscaped courtyard. Patients are allowed to smoke and eat whatever they like.

“I don’t want them to worry about anything like finances or anything... we’re just going to take care of everything for them,” said Landry.

Lou says that, though her body was deteriorating quickly from cancer, she was very happy at the hospice, and was glad that she left her home to be taken care of there.

“I think the nicest thing is no one hovers over you, they let you lead your own life," she says. "I’m perfectly at-ease, free to do whatever I want to do.” She rings a small bell if she needs anything and staff quickly attend to her.

Darick Selders is one of those staff members. He has worked there for more than seven years and said he found his work a joy.

“It’s always a blessing to be able to help someone who’s less fortunate, and especially during the last days of their lives,” he says. Selders is known for his singing, which he does spontaneously throughout the day. He believes it brings some joy and comfort to his patients during their last days of life, and one of his favorite songs is “I’ll Fly Away.”

The Northshore Focus is made possible with support from the Northshore Community Foundation, a center for philanthropy in the Northshore region.

Tegan has reported on the coast for WWNO since 2015. In this role she has covered a wide range of issues and subjects related to coastal land loss, coastal restoration, and the culture and economy of Louisiana’s coastal zone, with a focus on solutions and the human dimensions of climate change. Her reporting has been aired nationally on Planet Money, Reveal, All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Marketplace, BBC, CBC and other outlets. She’s a recipient of the Pulitzer Connected Coastlines grant, CUNY Resilience Fellowship, Metcalf Fellowship, and countless national and regional awards.

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