A Dying Wish

Peggy Quinn wanted to make death easier on the terminally ill, but she's made life hard on everyone else.

Quinn's ouster from Anam Chara made Miller furious. When Quinn was in charge, she visited the Denver home weekly and got to know every resident. With the help of family members, Quinn wrote profiles on the residents so that the caregivers would have, on file, a history of who they are, what makes them tick, what brings them comfort.

"The value of Anam Chara is the entire psychological, spiritual and emotional support the residents get," says Miller. "Peggy sat and knitted with my mother. Peggy established a relationship with her; she did that with every resident. Every resident got a hug from Peggy. She enriched their lives. Mother knew when Peggy was banned from the house, and she was enraged. Jan doesn't visit the house regularly. My mom doesn't even know who she is."

Although the same caregivers are still working in the Denver home, Miller worries that without the organization's visionary guiding them, the emotional part of the caregiving will become secondary. "The staff no longer has the thread woven through it that brought everyone together and kept them following the same philosophy," she says.

Peggy Quinn now takes care of Wanda, a former Anam Chara resident, in her home.
Anthony Camera
Peggy Quinn now takes care of Wanda, a former Anam Chara resident, in her home.

Miller also worries that some residents will feel they need to leave once Namaste takes over. "[Bezuidenhout] is attempting to sound supportive, but to me, the letter says she's going to change everything. I'm sure Jan will make things uncomfortable for the Medicaid people so that they'll leave."

Bezuidenhout insists that she won't limit the number of Medicaid patients, however.

After the Denver home is sold to Namaste, there will still be the question of what to do with the Boulder property. The head of an elder-care facility is apparently interested in purchasing it, but Wall wouldn't identify the prospective buyer. Another option is to sell the home on the open market, pay the City of Boulder back for its $100,000 grant, and use the remaining money to create an Anam Chara foundation that would award grants to organizations with similar missions.

A decision probably won't come for a while, but one thing Berzins is sure of is that Quinn won't have any part in it. "The Boulder home will almost certainly not be returned to any kind of Friends of Anam Chara-type group," he says. "After the original Friends of Anam Chara disbanded, it would be irresponsible to hand it over to another group that might become similarly frustrated with Peggy."

Whatever happens, it's the end of Anam Chara as Quinn knew it. And yet she still hasn't let go. She continues to refer to Anam Chara as her own and to speak of the "real" board that will eventually take over. She recently applied for a license to run the Boulder home even though she has no authority to do so, and she says she also plans to get hospice certification so that Anam Chara can someday qualify for more Medicaid reimbursement.

Simpson, the woman responsible for assembling the board that ousted Quinn, says the reason her former boss won't give up is simple: "Peggy wanted to be everything to Anam Chara because Anam Chara was everything to her."

"The way I see it, Peggy made some mistakes," says Jae Shim, "and I think the boardmembers had some good reasons for the actions they took. But their actions were too drastic, too destructive. The Friends of Anam Chara were willing to take over and keep the Boulder house open, and I think we could have done it. But the board was adamant about closing the home."

And though Shim supports Quinn and is grateful for the care she's given his mother, he questions her tactics as well. "I'm finding out that Peggy is a very stubborn woman, and I kind of respect that, but I think she should soften her position."

At Quinn's house, Jae's mother, Jong Shim, has emerged from her bedroom. Her nap is over, and she doesn't want to sleep anymore. "Go. Go," she says. "Go. Go."

She repeats this over and over again while she shuffles about. She taps Quinn's shoulder and points to the back door. Does she want to go outside? Before Quinn can ask, Jong moves toward Wanda, who's sleeping on the couch. She nudges Wanda and repeats her insistent plea. "Go."

Wanda wakes up agitated; she wants to rest, and it's impossible with Jong walking around. Quinn gently coaxes Wanda back to sleep. "It's okay," she whispers in a sing-song tone, as if to a baby. "It's okay."

Quinn then finds Jong, who is on her way back to her bedroom. She puts her arms around the small woman who, right now, is completely dependent on Quinn. "Shhhh," Quinn says softly, as she strokes her hair. In Quinn's arms, Jong finally calms down.

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