Coming Home Hospice: 25 Years of Caring
By Kimberly Carlisle
It is not what you would expect.
There’s the gentle yellow exterior trimmed in ornate white and the elegant stairs that rise to its entrance. Decorative pots of ivy anchor the base of curved metal balustrades. The door opens and a smiling man in casual shirt, slacks and tie greets a visitor. Inside, taupe walls are warmed by low-light sconces. It is quiet. Then one hears the sound of laughter — and even singing.
Coming Home Hospice, a program of California Pacific Medical Center, facilitates end-of-life care for terminally ill patients. And yet it is a place that is very much alive.
“We laugh, we love, we tell stories,” says Rich Nasca, the hospice’s director for the past 10 years. “Our work here is to help patients live as well as they can for as long as they naturally can with every need anticipated and attended to by our incredible staff.”
2012 marks 25 years of service for Coming Home Hospice, a former convent that opened in the Castro neighborhood of San Francisco in 1987. It was the nation’s first residential hospice program opened during the AIDS crisis, but as treatments became more effective, fewer patients died and the disease became a chronic condition. In response, the hospice expanded its service to include anyone diagnosed with a terminal illness, a cornerstone of CPMC’s broader commitment to leadership in palliative care.
Open Door for Patients and Families
Over the years the hospice has cared for approximately 3,500 patients ranging in age from 19 to 105. Two nurses and two aides provide 24-hour medical care, medication monitoring and personal assistance for as many as 200 patients per year. Housekeeping staff attends to meals, laundry and other facility needs.
Here, patients and families find many comforts of home. There’s a back deck with tables, umbrellas and memorial garden. There’s a bright and grand gathering room upstairs that was once a chapel where families talk and rest. There are 15 patient rooms with sunflowers and horses painted on the walls and entertainment centers with widescreen TVs – all gifts from thoughtful donors.
In the kitchen, an industrial-size refrigerator is filled with stacks of eggs, sticks of butter and a mound of shredded cheddar cheese. On the counter is a plate stacked high with freshly baked peanut butter cookies.
“No one needs to be on a diet here,” notes Nasca. “Whatever they want, we are here to make our patients’ passage as comfortable and enjoyable as it can be.”
The same full-time chef, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, has prepared patients’ meals for the past 15 years. The current nurses have been on the job here for eight years. Staff longevity is notable, as is their joie de vivre.
Giving Makes the Difference
James Lovegren has volunteered at Coming Home Hospice since it opened and now staffs the front desk five days each week. “I am retired, but I still feel a need to take care of people. It’s a home for our patients, and it’s a home for all of us, too. We are a family.”
“It’s not sad to work in hospice,” adds Nasca. “Hospice is a philosophy of care that says death is not outside the life experience—it is the life experience. We grieve when our patients pass and we stay committed to facilitating the process, especially for families.”
Though sustained in part by annual operational funding from CPMC and generous volunteer support, the costs of operation, coupled with the inability of many patients to fund the care they need, leaves a gap that only charitable gifts can fill.
“Coming Home Hospice is a jewel in CPMC’s commitment to providing a continuum of care for our community,” says Bob Darling, a longtime CHH donor and member of CPMC Foundation’s Board of Trustees, “and, in turn, the commitment of our community and donors to the hospice has allowed it to thrive and to serve.”
Million Dollar Anniversary Challenge
Sutter Health, CPMC and CPMC Foundation are teaming to raise $1,000,000 for Coming Home Hospice in celebration of its 25th anniversary in 2012. These funds will form the basis of an endowment for the hospice and help close the annual funding gap created by the cost of caring for patients and families who don’t have the resources to pay for the care they need. For more information or to make a gift, contact Gary Ogburn, Director of Gift Planning, OgburnWG@sutterhealth.org, 415-600-2410. To contact Coming Home Hospice, call 415-861-1110 or email NascaR@sutterhealth.org.