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VOL. 132 | NO. 56 | Monday, March 20, 2017

Baptist Opening New Grief Centers

By Andy Meek

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Baptist Memorial Health Care is expanding its grief services, adding new centers in Midtown and in Jonesboro, Arkansas, later this year, partly in response to demand from the community for the counseling and other benefits the organization has provided for years now.

The expansion will mean three Baptist grief centers operating within a 75-mile radius. The grief center in Jonesboro – where Baptist has one of its 17 hospitals, NEA Baptist Memorial Hospital – is headed toward a planned October opening, while the plan is for the Midtown Memphis location to open its doors this summer.

The Midtown location is the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief, Milla’s House. It’s opening on the grounds of Idlewild Presbyterian Church and is named in memory of Milla Gieselmann, the 6-year-old daughter of Memphis couple Frazer and Dana Gieselmann.

Milla died in November from Batten disease, an inherited neurodegenerative disorder for which there is no cure.

“Grief is the most universal experience there is,” said Baptist’s executive director of bereavement Angela Hamblen Kelly. “Unfortunately, all of us are going to be touched by the death of a loved one. And it creates distress in people. Not everyone needs grief counseling. But if you do, that does not mean there’s something wrong with you.

“With this expansion, it’s basically coming because of the community telling us they need it. We currently have a lot of demand and need of our services. We knew we needed to hire additional staff, and we started looking at wanting to have a presence in Midtown Memphis.”

Baptist decided to capitalize on the Midtown opportunity when Idlewild was given a house by a parishioner, and the church essentially told the hospital they’d like to share the house with them. Because the grief center’s operations are free and funded through grants and donations, those are the kinds of opportunities the center looks for, which made it, in Kelly’s words, “a natural fit.”

The model of care at both new centers will mirror the services and programs available at the original Baptist grief center, which, according to Baptist executives, has grown exponentially under Kelly’s leadership. Baptist opened the first grief center, the Kemmons Wilson Family Center for Good Grief, in 2005.

Baptist also spearheaded a grief camp for children, Camp Good Grief, in 1999.

Kelly said Baptist is in the middle of a study with the University of Memphis looking at the resilience of grieving children. It’s part of the organization’s larger work of studying grief and learning what people need and how to deliver that care.

“Grief is really large,” Kelly said. “Our efforts are about just trying to make the community healthier. And we’re seeing families take hold of their grief and slow down and honor their grief.”

About the namesake family of the new Midtown center, Milla’s father Frazer says the center continues to be essential to his family’s journey through their grief. And not just his family, but his extended family and close friends.

Dana, Frazer’s wife and Milla’s mother, said the family is proud to support the opening of the Midtown location, “while also honoring our daughter Milla. Her short life of six years touched so many. Our hope is that Milla’s House will provide the help our community needs to deal with the reality of living in a broken world.”

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