Thursday, July 21, 2005

Editorial: Home for hospice

Published in the Current

SCARBOROUGH (July 21, 2005): The people working to bring a hospice to Scarborough probably hadn’t expected to encounter much objection to their idea. After all, each of us will die someday, and many of us – myself included – have a relative or friend who used hospice services before dying.

Hospice of Southern Maine has run into a little bit of resistance, mostly residents concerned about traffic on the small roads off Maple Avenue, including Hunnewell Road, where Agnes Desfosses has donated nearly five acres to the agency.

Traffic is a valid concern, and a common one, about new developments, whether residential, commercial or a bit of both, like this one. Hospice organizers plan to provide housing for up to 16 patients, as well as space for family members to stay, and so it sounds a bit residential, perhaps along the lines of an apartment building. But it will also be a non-profit health care building, with doctors, nurses and other professionals helping to care for the bodies and minds of the patients there.

The Town Council is working on a provision that would allow a hospice building in any residential area of town – while leaving hospices barred from commercial and industrial zones.

It would seem better for everyone, not least the patients and their families, to place a hospice in a neighborhood than a business park, even if neighborhood roads were not originally designed to handle the hospice’s additional traffic.

And it’s not unreasonable for residents to be concerned about the potential effects of such a project on their surroundings. It’s likely this type of objection would be raised in any neighborhood the hospice group selected.

This particular neighborhood has long been vocally concerned about traffic in their neighborhood. In late 2002, they successfully lobbied the Town Council to slow down traffic in their area, getting approval for the installation of new stop signs that they hoped would discourage people from cutting through the area to avoid the Oak Hill intersection.

Having recently reclaimed their roads from speeding short-cutters, they are rightly wary of having more traffic come through. The hospice will bring visitors, staff and deliveries. A traffic study would be able to tell more accurately than anyone’s speculation – either the residents’ or hospice organizers’ – how much more traffic it would all mean, and such a study should be conducted before the planning process gets much farther along.

The neighborhood is a quiet residential space, with children playing outside, and where adults jog, walk and cycle. The residents there have a right to that environment, just as the hospice group has a right to propose to the town their project and potential remedies for any negative impacts the project might have.

One possible solution could be to have the hospice group install sidewalks in nearby areas where pedestrian traffic is common. Sidewalks are missing from the neighborhoods along and adjoining Maple Avenue, and could provide increased safety for the runners, walkers and others using the roads there. They would also narrow the roads even more, which could tend to slow traffic.

There may be a place that would be better in an ideal world, but in this, the real world, five acres at no cost provide the perfect spot as far as the hospice is concerned. Buying a similarly sized lot in Scarborough or elsewhere in Southern Maine would be very expensive, perhaps prohibitively so, given the hospice’s desire to be close to major roads like the Maine Turnpike and Route 1.

Hospice is an important aspect of health care, and a crucial support for dying people and their loved ones. The neighbors’ concerns are not insurmountable, and the need for hospice is great. We hope that the hospice group can work with the town and residents to find a way to bring hospice services to Southern Maine.

Jeff Inglis, editor