Creating a home instead of a hospice

LORETO ON THE PLAINS: The Home that Faith Built

“We know what we have here and want to share it with others.” – Ed Weber

Hartley, population 400, sits smack dab in the heart of the upper panhandle of Texas. There on the plains sits a beautiful home, a safe haven for the elderly, the sick and those near death, where “the sanctity of every human life is respected and protected.” I recently had the privilege of visiting with Ed and Nan Weber, whose vision became the awesome reality they named Loreto on the Plains Personal Care Home.

My plane touched down in Amarillo a little before noon on Monday, February 3rd. Ed and Nan met me at the airport, treated me to lunch and then drove to the hospital where a member of their Loreto “family,” Keith, was in the critical care unit after a brush with death. Having extreme difficulty breathing due to pneumonia, Keith was taken by care-flight to the hospital Sunday night. The next day, we found him sitting up in bed eating lunch. A broad smile greeted Nan and Ed. I would soon discover why people who reside at Loreto on the Plains have reason to be joyful.

The drive from Amarillo to Hartley is over an hour with not much to look at but the plains and a few hills, one with a very large cross on top that Ed and Nan had helped erect years before. Nan, quoting scripture, asked, “What did you go out into the desert to see?” I came looking for an answer to an urgent question: What can be done to provide protection and ensure life-enhancing care for the frail elderly who, as their number grows, are increasingly victims of abuse and imposed death? I would leave the next day certain that creating thousands of Loreto-like homes is the answer.

Step by Step in Faith

The Webers were “called to end-of-life care, to create a home instead of a hospice.” Preparing for this new chapter in their life together, the couple attended training for hospice volunteers and Nan, a retired teacher and mother of 10 grown daughters, went back to school to become a Licensed Vocational Nurse.Their original vision was a 16-bed home where they would care for very sick people who came to them from a hospital or nursing home. Advisors wisely suggested, “Start small. The world cannot wait until you get the money.” Also, they discovered that a home with three or fewer residents does not have to meet burdensome state regulations. So they down-sized their plan.

A visiting priest from India came to see what they were doing. It turned out Fr. Jose Palathara, the administrator of a hospital in India, was also both a civil engineer and an architect. He told them, “Make it simple” and built a model of the design Ed and Nan had drawn up. God also provided two master builders and a master electrician who donated their services.

They presented a letter to the Warden of the Dalhart Unit of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice asking for help, explaining what they needed and that Loreto on the Plains is an outreach of the Holy Family Ministry Center, a 501c3 (charitable, tax-exempt, tax-deductible) organization not owned or operated by any church. The warden sent a work team of eight men who collectively put in over 5000 hours. Ninety percent of the home was built by prisoners, whom Nan and Ed kept well-fed.

Both inside and out, the home is designed for the residents so they can get around with ease. Every room is spacious with big windows. Ed proudly describes Nan as “an artist.” She was the interior decorator who made Loreto a warm and inviting home. The exterior of the home includes a wrap-around porch and yard that is easily accessible to wheelchairs and walkers. There are gardens and a gazebo, a water feature and fish pond. In short, it is an oasis in the desert.

Everyone who came to see the home as it went up seemed to want to help. It brought people of all faiths—Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites, members of the Christian Fellowship Church, etc.—together to provide a home for those in need of tender loving care in the final weeks, months, or years of their lives.

A Family Atmosphere

Loreto on the Plains opened its doors in December 2009. In a little over four years they have served 12 people, providing end-of-life care, transitional care from hospital to their own homes, and respite care. In some cases, what started out as end-of-life care became long-term care as people lived much longer than expected.Advisors stressed the importance of taking just one patient for the first year. Their first resident, June, came to them with congestive heart failure, diabetes and extremely swollen legs. Obese and unable to walk, her life-expectancy was less than six months. “Just through love and good physical care she was with us for two years,” Nan said. “Miss June had life oozing out of her very fingertips and she had a fantastic sense of humor. She wanted to know what was happening all around and would be concerned and pray for each person’s needs.” June had a heart attack and died on December 6, 2011.

“We started out thinking we were giving our life away, but what actually happens is that our residents—our Loreto ‘family’—give us more than we give them,” Ed stated.

Loreto is not a medical facility. It is a true home where the residents’ family members take part in their care, people from the community drop in for visits and to help out, children have a room of their own in which to play, and three little dogs are given a great deal of attention. Home-cooked, nutritious and delicious meals are served at the dining room table. The night I shared dinner with them, Clara, age 97, led us in a beautiful prayer before we ate. Games are played after dinner. Later, Ed visits each person’s room to pray with them and bless them before they go to sleep. It is a home where people come together to enjoy life and “no one dies alone.”

I met many people while visiting Loreto, but not a single one without a smile. Mozelle, 92, and Clara both said they were very happy at Loreto. Carl, 74, who is deaf, just smiled at me. The Weber’s son-in-law Jorge, who assists them full-time with personal care for the residents as well as yard work and maintenance, has found his calling and hopes to someday become a Registered Nurse. He is the father of seven of the Weber’s 40 grandchildren. Michelle, a young Mennonite woman who is a Certified Nursing Assistant, cheerfully does whatever work she is assigned, including laundry and other household chores.

The Vision Reaches Out

Each of us has a calling. Is protecting and caring for the elderly, the sick and those near death your calling? Ed and Nan have learned, “If God is going to lead you into this, He is going to honor your commitment.” They are willing and ready to help others step out in faith to create safe havens for those who are vulnerable and weak. They will go anywhere they are invited to speak, to offer inspiration and consultation for the development of Personal Care Homes.The Webers invite people to visit Loreto on the Plains PCH, the “Home that Faith Built.” They will help clarify your vision, provide training, and guide you step by step. I guarantee your visit will be both delightful and inspiring.