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Easing their final hours

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For hospital patients facing the end of their lives, their final days and weeks are precious times.

They want to spend as much time as possible with loved ones, in a comfortable setting that offers privacy. But often, their own home is not equipped to meet their needs. A southside Indianapolis hospital is opening a hospice center next year with the hope of becoming a suitable replacement.

Franciscan St. Francis Health will break ground June 12 on a new building dedicated to hospice care. The $10 million facility will include private rooms, common areas for families and patients, and a chapel and prayer garden. Hospital officials anticipate serving more than 600 families each year at the hospice center, which is expected to be finished in early 2015.

The hope is to provide a setting that is as close to home as possible for a patient’s final days, said Dr. Gerald Walthall, a member of the Franciscan Alliance Foundation St. Francis Health board of directors.

“We’re seeing people in increasing numbers who have multiple chronic illnesses,” he said. “There is an increasing demand and need for

hospice services. A majority is done in the home, that’s the optimal situation. But we recognize that increasingly, that’s not always possible.”

The Hospice House will be in addition to Franciscan St. Francis’ existing home hospice, and will be the only freestanding hospice facility between Columbus and the north side of Indianapolis. The center will be a new addition to the palliative medicine program, which aims to relieve patients from the painful symptoms that accompany serious illness, said Walthall, who is also the hospital’s palliative medicine director.

Franciscan St. Francis has offered hospice care in the home for about 20 years, but some patients can’t afford it, don’t have a caregiver to watch over them, or don’t have homes that can handle their needs.

“We recognize that all of the good works the hospice nurses do in the home, that we need a place where patients who can’t stay in the home can go and get cared for and not get caught up in all that is going on in the hospital,” Walthall said.

The hospice home will be a located on the hospital’s southside campus. But with its own location south of the main building, the center will provide a respite for the most ill of patients, Walthall said.

“It will look like a neighborhood area, instead of the institutional areas. The hope is to give people a sense that they’re not at the hospital,” he said.

The hospice home will have between 12 and 16 beds for patients, each with cozy decorations and soothing color schemes. A common area with a fireplace will be available for families to gather.

“We try to look at the whole person from the moment of conception to death. A hospice house will provide those final days or hours of comfort to a family,” said Sister Marlene Shapley, the hospital’s vice president of mission services.

In the chapel, patients and family members can address their spiritual needs in a difficult time. Communion will be available to Catholic patients, and other ministers will be welcome to come in and work with the families of other denominations, Shapley said.

“That’s very important at a time like this, so that families can express their feelings and fears,” she said.

The hospital started the campaign to build the hospice home in 2012. Money for construction costs was raised through donations and pledges, as well as by matching contributions made by Franciscan Alliance.

Officials are now working to raise an additional $2 million to create an endowment to help sustain the hospice in the future.

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