The Tullahoma community is invited to a special anniversary ribbon cutting for Compassus, the long-serving hospice and palliative care organization, as it celebrates a quarter of a century assisting families and patients.

Founded in 1996, Compassus has been providing families in Tullahoma and beyond with the necessary assistance for patients in need of hospice or palliative care for the last 25 years. The organization will be celebrating its milestone this Tuesday, Oct. 19, with a ribbon cutting from the Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce at 10 a.m. in front of the office.

According to Volunteer Coordinator Julia Logan-Mayes, the organization first came about when a home health nurse, Merry Weis, and her physician husband moved to Tullahoma from Virginia in the 1990s. Merry was working as a home health nurse in Tullahoma and inquired about any local hospice care only to be told there wasn’t any—the nearest hospice care was located about 60 miles away in Nashville.

“She recognized that we needed a hospice in this area,” Logan-Mayes said.

From that point, Logan-Mayes said, Merry worked with an army of volunteers to obtain a certificate of need for a hospice for a six-county area in Middle Tennessee, including Bedford, Cannon, Coffee, Franklin, Grundy and Moore counties. Those counties are still served by Compassus 25 years later. Weis’s husband volunteered as the medical director in the beginning as Merry secured volunteer nurses and home health workers to come on board with her fledgling nonprofit organization.

After a few years, Weis sold the organization to the Community Hospices of America, which had an office Columbia in Maury County. The company eventually changed its name to Compassus, which is bears to this day. 

Hospice of the Highland Rim Foundation 

Weis also secured the documentation for the funding mechanism still in operation today: the Hospice of the Highland Rim Foundation (HHRF).

HHRF and Compassus work closely together, though they are separate organizations, Logan-Mayes said. HHRF is a nonprofit organization that raises money for several different hospice and palliative care organizations like Compassus or Avalon Hospice should they need financial assistance for their patients. Because they share the same roots, however, Logan-Mayes said she frequently receives checks in the mail for HHRF that she passes along to the foundation. The current president of HHRF, Pat Howard, similarly receives questions from people across Middle Tennessee seeking information about hospice care that she forwards to Logan-Mayes or other local hospice organizations.

According to Howard, the primary items HHRF covers include utility bills and food, though the foundation has also installed window air conditioner units for patients or installed gravel on a path so nurses could have better accessibility to their patients.

All funding requests must be submitted and approved by the board of directors, Howard added. In 2020 the organization awarded more than $100,000 in grant funds, she said, covering dozens of patients.

Any hospice organization in the area can contact HHRF in order to request funding, though Compassus is the foundation’s biggest supporter, Howard said. 

What is hospice and palliative care? 

According to Logan-Mayes, hospice care and palliative care are separate functions of the work the employees and volunteers at Compassus do. Hospice care is strictly for patients with terminal diagnoses who are not seeking curative treatment, only symptom management; whereas palliative care is for patients with chronic illnesses such as Parkinson’s disease, Huntington’s disease or COPD. These patients can seek life-prolonging, curative treatment and are not required to meet any end-stage disease criteria, while hospice patients must meet the end-stage disease criteria.

The two care methods are also financed through Medicare differently: Hospice care is financed through Medicare Part A, while palliative care processes through Part B.

Hospice care also requires a signed directive from a doctor, Logan-Mayes said. 

Reducing the stigma 

What Logan-Mayes and Howard want people to know about hospice and palliative care, however, is that there should be no shame or stigma attached to needing either service for a loved one.

“Sometimes, along the way, when they have gone to the doctor and been given a diagnosis, it’s very difficult; they might be in that denial stage of, ‘This can’t be happening; that’s not true; I need to get a second and third opinion,’ which is fine,” Logan-Mayes said. “They just might not be there yet of accepting that. There are times when they might just wait and sit on that and not make a decision and continue to decline.”

She added there have been plenty of times when she will get calls from caregivers or family members who say they were informed of a terminal diagnosis months ago but resisted calling for hospice care out of the wishes of their loved one. There have also been cases where hospice care was ordered by physicians in the hospital for patients who did not previously receive a diagnosis until the situation reached a critical point.

“There are all kinds of situations that we have come into,” she said, noting that denial can be a strong influence over patients’ decisions of whether or not to seek hospice care.

That denial can come from either the patient or the patient’s family members, Logan-Mayes said. She said she has worked with plenty of patients who fully accepted and acknowledged their mortality and those who did not want to hear any talk of death or dying. She has also worked with caregivers and family members on both sides of the discussion. All of these factors can prevent a family from seeking out hospice care until a critical moment.

“It’s just a hard subject to talk about,” she said.

“You hear ‘hospice’ and you think ‘death,’” Howard added. “Nobody wants to die.”

Logan-Mayes said she hopes more people seek out information early, which can help both ease the stigma on hospice care and provide loved ones and caregivers with much needed resources to be there for their loved ones. She also would like the volunteers with Compassus, who she characterized as “selfless” and “angels” who can help caregivers, not to be afraid to talk to people about hospice care.

She shared when her late husband was needing hospice care, the medical workers and volunteers who worked with her husband were “angels” on earth and a blessing for her and her family. She likened the experience to having someone pull her out of a deep hole in the ground, allowing her to focus more of her energy and time loving and supporting her husband while other trained workers tended to his medical needs. 

Anniversary celebration 

In celebrating 25 years of hospice and palliative care in Tullahoma and Middle Tennessee, the organization will be hosting a special event and a ribbon cutting with the Tullahoma Area Chamber of Commerce, Logan-Mayes said.

Tuesday, Oct. 19, Compassus and HHRF will be hosting a drive-through coffee and donuts booth open to whole community. The booth will operate from 8—11 a.m. At 10 a.m., Logan-Mayes said, the chamber will stop by to have a ribbon cutting to celebrate the quarter-century anniversary of the organization.

Additionally, Logan-Mayes said, Compassus and HHRF will be selling raffle tickets for a chance to win two tickets for the Nov. 13 Nashville Predators game versus the Arizona Coyotes and some Nashville Predators swag donated by the Preds. The tickets will be available for $5 each, and all the proceeds from the ticket sales will benefit HHRF.

For those who cannot stop by the Oct. 19 ribbon cutting and drive-by coffee service, Logan-Mayes said there is also another opportunity to purchase raffle tickets at the HHRF annual Turkey Trot 5K Saturday, Oct. 23, at Tims Ford State Park.

The raffle drawing will take place after the 5K has concluded, Logan-Mayes said, and winners do not need to be present to win the drawing.

For more information on Compassus, visit compassus.com. For more information on HHRF, visit hospiceofthehighlandrimfoundation.org.

Compassus is located at 1805 N. Jackson St. Suite 11 in Tullahoma, next to Vanderbilt Tullahoma-Harton Hospital.

Managing Editor

Erin McCullough has won awards for her news reporting, community lifestyles and education reporting in the three years she's been a journalist. She is a graduate of the University of Tennessee and currently lives in Tullahoma with her cat, Luna.

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