The Heart Behind St. Mary's Hospice House

By Carrie Munn, The County Times

Hospice House Director Kathy Franzen, left, Manager and nurse Nancy Sperbeck, long-time volunteer Peg Baliko and nursing tech Tawnyada Allen hang out in the facility’s cozy sitting room with resident Virginia Sue Redding. (Photo: Carrie Munn)
Hospice House Director Kathy Franzen, left, Manager and nurse Nancy Sperbeck, long-time volunteer Peg Baliko and nursing tech Tawnyada Allen hang out in the facility’s cozy sitting room with resident Virginia Sue Redding (seated on right). (Photo: Carrie Munn)

HOLLYWOOD, Md.—The fundraisers that bring bluegrass music and a festival of trees to the county annually bring comfort to terminally ill patients and their families year-round. Hospice of St. Mary’s treats the whole person with a team of professionals that tend to all the needs of the individual, affording them the highest quality of life possible in their final days.

“Like every birth, every death is different,” said Nancy Sperbeck, Hospice House Manager.

Sperbeck explained the patients that stay at Hospice House, the beautiful six-bedroom residence on 23 acres in Callaway, range in age, prognoses and sets of needs. The atmosphere in the facility is far from gloomy, with gorgeous sitting rooms, private bedrooms with amenities for visiting family members and patio views of well kept grounds.

Current resident, Ernest Williams, described himself as St. Mary’s County “old stock.”

“I’ve been in many hospitals over the years and can honestly say I’ve never been treated so well,” said the Clements man, 81. Williams credits Sperbeck, a nurse for 26 years and specializing in Hospice care for the last 14, as making “all the difference in the world.” He explained in the six weeks or so that he’s been a patient there, she and the entire Hospice team spent the time to listen, work on it and straighten out medications, relieving his pain for the first time in years. “They’ve done terrific things for me,” Williams said.

The staff did so well that Williams said it felt like he was cured, Sperbeck shared, which was a rewarding experience in an often emotionally charged career.

Among other cherished memories Sperbeck shared was a mock wedding held for a young woman at Hospice House. The collaborative team that supports patients also consists of bereavement counselors and social workers, which adapt to the needs of each patient and their families. A team of social workers, based out of basement offices on the premises, explained they do whatever they can to make life a little bit easier for those experiencing the knowing loss of a loved one.

“It’s the little stuff that makes so much difference,” said Cindy Parlin, sharing during her eight years on the job, she’s seen a Redskins fan get free tickets and attend the pregame and a Stephen King fan receive a phone call and original transcript from her favorite author.

Among nurses in the “bullpen,” Peggy Crim said she became a Hospice nurse four years ago after her mother had received care from Sperbeck.

All the nurses, including the technicians that work in 12-hour shifts at Hospice House, agreed the job can be emotionally challenging.

“We get attached, even to those only with us for a short time … some people just have a personality you’re drawn to and it’s difficult when we lose them,” said Lisa Wilds, a certified nursing assistant.

Volunteers like Peg Baliko are an invaluable asset, Sperbeck said. Baliko has volunteered her time for 14 years, visiting patients in the hospital and assisted living communities, sharing her company by reading to them, praying with them and making grocery or medicine runs to assist the families.

The team approach also includes legal and spiritual support, ensuring that nearly every need can be met.

“One mission of Hospice, besides meeting [patients’] physical needs and getting them comfortable, is doing what we can to make sure they’re emotionally and spiritually at peace,” Sperbeck said.

Hospice of St. Mary’s director Kathy Franzen said, “It’s been shown that those receiving good symptom management and emotional support live longer than people under just strictly curative, aggressive care.”

She shared that no one is ever denied Hospice care regardless of income, and that in the last fiscal year, $146,000 in free or reduced-fee care was provided through the generosity of St. Mary’s County.

To find out more about Hospice House, the services offered by Hospice of St. Mary’s, how to volunteer or help support the efforts to bring peace before passing, visit or call 301-994-3023.

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