By Heather Palmer

The Sanctuary Hospice House turns 10 years old this fall and it’s safe to say the yellow house on Highway 6 has been a success and a testament to what a community can do. The opening of the Sanctuary Hospice House placed Mississippi and Tupelo on the map for another “first” when the doors opened in 2005 as the first non-profit hospice house in rural America.

It all began in August 2000 when several local medical professionals including Dr. Joe Bailey, Dr. John Elliot, Louise Harris and then RN, Senator Nancy Collins witnessed what they felt to be a special kind of care on medical mission trip to Mexico. “Right there in Mexico City, they had nothing but tender, loving nursing care,” Dr. Joe Bailey reflects. “When we finished up and got in the car Nancy Collins said, ‘We can do this at home.’ and that’s when the Sanctuary Hospice House was born.”

Once back home, Louise Harris, Carol Elliot (Dr. Elliot’s wife) and Nancy Collins (all nurses) lead the drive to establish the roots of the Sanctuary Hospice House. Garnering land on the Hancock ranch on Highway 6, combined with endless fundraising and volunteer support, the ladies took the next steps to carry their plight to Washington.

With the support of then-Congressman Roger Wicker and other political leaders, a bill was introduced that would support the idea of a new kind of hospice. At the time, hospice houses were only available in limited urban areas. In rural America, the only options outside of a home setting were a hospital or nursing home. The dream of the founders was for a clinical, home-like setting that would offer physical, spiritual, and emotional support to patients and their families.

The legislative campaign rose to a national level with the support of the American Medical Association and the National Oncology Nursing Society. The legislation changed Medicare requirements allowing Sanctuary to be part of a National Medicare Demonstration Project that exempted the hospice house from the normal rules that 80 percent of hospice services must be provided on an outpatient basis. The founders and legislative supporters insisted that the philosophy worked fine for citizens in urban areas, but did not provide the flexibility to serve patients in rural areas who often needed inpatient care that wasn’t readily available. Nancy Collins advocated, “People get a lot of attention at birth but not much at the end of life. It’s just as precious and just as important.”

Even though legislation was passed, community and philanthropic support were also a must. “We found that there were so many people in the community who wanted to give,” said Louise Harris, “This is that kind of community. There’s a synergy here that you don’t find in a lot of places but it’s present and alive here. There were so many people, you couldn’t mention them all—you would have to have a list as long as my leg to mention all the people who helped.”

Lauren Patterson adds, “What’s amazing is we had a dream, a mission and people bought in to it and we had $1.9 million in the bank when we broke ground. That’s amazing that people would support you like that.”

Early on, the need for special fundraisers was obvious and that’s when Celebration Village was formed. “You have to have people to support you,” said Lisa Hawkins, “One person can’t do everything, so we knew it would take a tremendous amount of volunteers. Many came together to form the auxiliary and that was the base and the beginning of Celebration Village.”

Ms. Joyce Riley and family continued another fundraising effort that continued for many years that supported the building of the Jack Riley Memorial Chapel at Sanctuary. Ms. Riley, one of the early founders, says she was already dreaming of a hospice house but she wasn’t aware of the other efforts and they weren’t aware of hers. While her husband Jack was sick and going to the cancer center for treatment, she witnessed a man who was wheeled in and left alone, she noticed then that there were people who needed a “place.” “I believe that the hospice house came about by God’s intervention,” adds Ms. Riley.

In late 2009 near the end of the Medicare study, the Sanctuary Hospice board of directors had a decision to make. If the hospice house were to continue, servicing patients in their homes must be established to satisfy the 80% rule. The Sanctuary Home Hospice has now served over 1000 patients and families, while Sanctuary Hospice House has served close to 3000.

“The importance of homecare can’t be stated enough. We wondered if we could have the impact in the home that we did at the house but it looks like there may be an even greater impact in the homes where we minister,” says Lisa Hawkins, early founder and current board member.

The Sanctuary Village Shoppe thrift store in Tupelo is another effort supporting Sanctuary’s mission as well as several other fundraisers like the Sounds of Sanctuary concert that was held in 2013 and 2014. The Sanctuary Hospice Junior Auxiliary was formed in 2013 and is a younger generation of supporters who meet primarily at night. Their latest fundraiser, “Boots, Bluegrass & BBQ” just finished its second year because, “we recognize the need for continued funds for this amazing cause!” says Kory Hunter, Sanctuary Hospice Junior Auxiliary president.

At the end of the day, current Executive Director George Hand is glad to know that he and his staff are part of a continuing legacy. “It is both an honor and a privilege to be a part of such an amazing cause. Everyday our staff strives to ensure that our heritage is alive and well through our daily works.”

Recently retired Executive Director Linda Gholston adds that one of the traits she believes has made the Sanctuary Hospice impact is that, “Hospice workers are not hired, they are called. I always tried with potential employees to see that, because it really makes a difference when you work every day with those who are dying and those they love if you are called.”

Sanctuary staff, volunteers, board members, and supporters are in complete agreement that the Sanctuary has made its mark on North Mississippi and hope the legacy is here for many years to come.

To learn more about Sanctuary Hospice services, visit or call 1.877.845.2111.


Pro-Life Mississippi