The newly constructed brick building on the campus of Franciscan St. Francis Health isn’t designed to treat any disease or cure any sickness.

Patients admitted to the facility have reached the end of their lives, likely having fewer than six months remaining. They require more than any caregiver can provide.

So the focus is on comfort — spacious suites, a sun room facing a prayer garden, a spa and a chapel for faithful reflection.

Story continues below gallery

Franciscan St. Francis Health’s new Hospice House is representative of the evolving importance being placed on end-of-life care. As it and other hospitals face an influx of older patients, an increased emphasis has gone towards making sure people die in as dignified and tranquil way possible.

Health care officials aim to help patients and their families approach the inevitability of death with as much positivity as possible.

“We tend to act like death is an elective, and it’s avoidable if you don’t mention it, instead of recognizing that this is the transition that we’re all going to face,” said Dr. Gerald Walthall, director of palliative medicine for Franciscan St. Francis Health. “There are some very sacred things that can be shared in those end days with your family and friends, but you have to allow yourself with the space and time to do it.”

Hospice care, also known as palliative care, is provided to patients at the end of their lives, typically with six months or fewer to live. The focus is less on treatment of a disease or recovery and more on comfort, Walthall said.

“The public perception is that hospice is about being dead. It’s really about enabling people to live as richly and fully as they can, even when they’re dying,” he said. “That’s something we don’t do well in this country.”

This type of care is on the rise.

From 2009 to 2013, hospice patients increased nearly 200,000. By 2013, 1.5 million people in the U.S. were receiving hospice care, according to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Changes in society have also made hospice businesses and facilities more prevalent.

“When kids leave home now, they’re living across the country,” said Brenda Schoenherr, administrative director of home care, hospice and Hospice House for Franciscan. “They don’t have those family support structures to care for mom and dad. Instead, they’re hiring services to come in and help.”

The new facility will expand the existing hospice services that Franciscan St. Francis offers. Currently, the majority of hospice care is provided by the hospital in patients’ homes.

Community Health Network offers home hospice care and the ability to provide services in nursing homes as well as its own hospital. Private companies, such as Americare Home Health & Hospice, also gives end-of-life care to patients throughout Johnson County.

But some people require care beyond what could be done in the comfort of their own homes. Previously, Franciscan St. Francis patients were forced to move into a hospital in their final days, which made a bad situation even more difficult for them and their families, said Cecelia Quade, a registered nurse with Franciscan VNS Home Health and Hospice.

“We discovered that there was a gap in the care,” she said. “When the patients cannot be maintained at home by their caregiver, they need a place to go that is home-like in environment. We were having difficulty with that area.”

Within central Indiana, only three similar hospice homes exist. St. Vincent Indianapolis, Indiana University Health Bloomington and Our Hospice of South Central Indiana all feature residences where patients can live.

The new Franciscan St. Francis facility is a 27,000-square-foot home designed to make patients’ final days, weeks and months as comfortable as possible.

Designers laid out 12 suites, and each room has an outdoor patio where patients can sit if they’re healthy enough.

A spa room offers a therapeutic hot tub, aromatherapy and other relaxation programs.

“Hospice care is less high tech than it is high touch,” Walthall said. “You’re not doing all of these elaborate technical things, because that’s not the need or benefit for the patient. The intent is to maintain any and all things providing comfort.”

For visitors, designers have created a children’s room, library and family rooms to use while visiting loved ones.

A sitting room in the front has high-backed easy chairs and a sofa in front of a fireplace. If families want to have a special meal or cook a loved one’s favorite dish, a high-end kitchen was created with a stove, sink, microwave and seating.

“We tried to turn it into a very home-like environment, not just for the patient, but for their family,” said Kristina Basicker, director of Franciscan VNS Hospice. “We tried to provide everything we could to give the patients peace.”

The main purpose of the Hospice House is for patients who need near constant care. Nurses will be able to care for patients who are also transitioning from a hospital stay to their own homes, but still need a 24-hour level of assistance, said Kristina Basicker, director of Franciscan VNS Hospice.

Caregivers can also bring their loved ones into the house for a short stay in order to give themselves a break, what is termed “respite care.”

The finished house is the culmination of an effort that started in 2002. That year, a Franciscan St. Francis Health hospice patient Joretta Espieg donated $10,000 to go towards the construction of a home for those facing the end of their lives.

Since that time, $10.3 million was raised to build and operate the Hospice House. Franciscan Alliance provided a matching donation of $5 million, with the rest being raised through fundraisers, private donors, corporate partners and employee contributions.

The centerpiece of the new home is a chapel. Stained glass, statues and pews were taken from the worship space in the former Beech Grove hospital, creating a sense of history and modernity at the same time.

Mass and other denominational services will be offered, and the space is large enough to roll a bed in if a patient is unable to walk or use a wheelchair to get to the chapel.

“We had expert technicians who have worked both in the home and in the hospital. They know the level of technology that’s needed, but they’ve done it in the home, so we could bridge the gap about bringing that here,” Quade said.

Officials understand that the need for hospice care is only going to grow. Census population estimates reveal that by 2030, 8.9 million people will be age 85 or older in the U.S.

The hospital has preconstructed the shell of four additional rooms that can be finished when demand warrants it, Quade said.

“With the baby boom population getting older, and people living longer with chronic diseases, the need is there,” she said.

At a glance

Franciscan St. Francis Hospice House

What: An inpatient facility designed specifically for patients at the end of their lives, with amenities for individuals and their families

Size: 27,000 square feet

Rooms: 12

Groundbreaking: June 2014

Expected opening: Early November 2015


  • Large common area for families
  • Well-equipped kitchen with dining room
  • Chapel and prayer garden
  • Spa

High-quality, holistic medical care for all Hospice House-qualified patients and support for their families


If you go

Franciscan Hospice House

Open House

When: 9 a.m. to noon Sept. 19

Where: 8414 Franciscan Lane, Indianapolis

What: The public is invited to tour the new Hospice House property and meet the people who will staff the facility.

Ryan Trares is a reporter for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at or 317-736-2727.