Bartholomew leans down and kisses Babette before they blow out the candles on their 25th wedding anniversary cake on July 31. Bartholomew, 77, provides 24/7 care to his wife, 94, since she suffered a stroke in 2018. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

CUMBERLAND — Bartholomew O’Dwyer has gotten more phone calls, emails and surprise visits in the last few days than he has in years.

After he was featured in a Press Herald story on Sunday about his wife, Babette, losing access to hospice care, Bartholomew has seen a groundswell of support from residents of Cumberland, where the couple has lived for nearly three decades.

“It’s been a little overwhelming, to tell you the truth,” he said this week. “To me, I think that speaks to how wrong this situation is.”

Babette, 94, suffered a stroke in 2018 and her health deteriorated rapidly. She was authorized for hospice care that year.

Every few months, the hospice provider – Northern Light Home Care and Hospice – reevaluated her condition and continued providing care and support, not just to Babette but Bartholomew, who is her sole caregiver. The only time he’s able to leave the house to get groceries or run an errand is when a hospice worker is there.

Last month, Bartholomew was notified that hospice care would be ending. Staff at Northern Light explained to him that Babette’s health was no longer declining and they couldn’t bill Medicare for the services.


They offered a list of other potential resources in Babette’s discharge letter but made clear Bartholomew would soon be on his own.

“It is ultimately your responsibility to arrange for additional durable medical equipment, personal care services and physician services,” the letter said.

Bartholomew said he started getting calls and emails on Sunday, the same day his story was published.

Babette O’Dwyer looks up at her husband Bartholomew O’Dwyer after he finishes brushing her hair at their home in Cumberland on July 25. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

By Monday morning, Devon Galvan, who coordinates senior services for the town of Cumberland, had called to offer assistance and to let him know that many other residents had called as well. She is now serving as a liaison between the O’Dwyers and volunteers, who have offered everything from help cleaning and doing yard work to just sitting with Babette so Bartholomew can have a break.

Galvan declined to be interviewed, but Cumberland Town Manager William Shane said he’s not surprised the story struck a chord.

“I think it’s a bit of a wake-up call for some,” he said.


Shane said Cumberland has more than 8,000 residents, but it’s still a small town and people want to help their neighbors.

On the public Facebook page for Cumberland and nearby North Yarmouth, which has 5,200 members, one of the administrators posted the story.

“If the town isn’t able to help – I would be happy to meet with others to see what our community can do,” commented Sandra Williams, of North Yarmouth. “Maybe some sort of home health care or visiting nurse morning and evening and others to supplement that. We have to help our own.”

“I’m interested in helping,” wrote Kathy Sauers Ostergaard. “I read the article through first without realizing they were in Cumberland. It breaks my heart to know that they were turned down for hospice.”

Bartholomew said he’s gotten calls from people in town – some who knew Babette when she ran a travel agency, others who were moved by the story. One woman he didn’t know showed up this week and told him she loves to garden. She came back with some hedge trimmers and tidied up the bushes in front of the house.

Babette, who can’t walk, speak or feed her herself, needs round-the-clock care, and the assistance provided by hospice has been her husband’s only reprieve.


Now that hospice is ending, his only other option would be to see if she qualifies for nursing home care. But that’s not an option. He doesn’t want to leave her.

Already, the town has put things in motion.

Over the weekend, the O’Dwyers’ basement flooded, forcing Bartholomew to spend hours and hours bailing it out with a bucket. Galvan arranged for a plumber to visit.

“We’re covering the cost, so don’t worry about that,” Galvan told him over the phone. “I just hope you don’t get any more rain in the meantime.”

The town also is assisting the O’Dwyers in setting up a telehealth visit with a new doctor next week.

When Bartholomew was told by the hospice provider that services would be ending, Northern Light told him they would work to find a new primary care doctor. Babette’s only doctor was the hospice doctor. But Northern Light wanted Bartholomew to bring Babette to the medical practice, something he said was out of the question.


“I’m not going to treat her like an animal going to the vet,” he said.

Just because hospice services have ended doesn’t mean they couldn’t resume at some point. For most individuals, hospice care is offered in the final months of a person’s life, as a way to make them and their loved ones comfortable. But there is no official cap for services provided through Medicare.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services would not comment on a specific case but said requirements for hospice through Medicare state that a patient “must be certified as being terminally ill; that is, the individual has a medical prognosis that his or her life expectancy is six months or less if the illness runs its normal course.”

The local hospice officials assessing Babette communicated to Bartholomew that her health was no longer declining. She wasn’t losing weight.

But he said their assessment didn’t match reality.

Bartholomew said he’s grateful for the offers of help. He’s told Babette about the support but isn’t sure she understands.

She did, however, notice that he had cut his hair.

“I saw those pictures of myself in the paper and said, ‘I’ve got to do something,’ ” he joked. “When I showed her, she smiled at me in a way she hasn’t in years.”

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