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Hospice plans home for local patients

Hillsborough's first house for terminal patients will be in Sun City Center.

LifePath Hospice has begun work on the first Hospice House in Hillsborough County and hopes to add two more within the next couple of years.

Traditionally, hospices take care of patients in their own homes. But not everybody wants to die at home, and often their only other choice is a nursing home.

The Hospice House will give people an alternative to such an institutional setting, said LifePath CEO Kathy Fernandez.

It also is likely to be an attractive choice to people who have no family nearby or whose spouse is too frail and elderly to take care of a dying person. That describes 40 percent of LifePath's clientele.

Opal Fisher, 71, saw many such people in that predicament during her years as a home health nurse. She was almost in that spot herself earlier this year.

Fisher went to see her doctor just before Christmas last year because her stomach hurt. She ended up in the hospital with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer and a grim prognosis.

"They didn't think I'd make it more than a few weeks," Fisher said Sunday.

She did. But when she got out of the hospital, she was too ill to live by herself. That's when she would have welcomed the presence of a Hospice House.

The first one is planned to open in the spring at Sun City Center, where Fisher and many of LifePath's clients live.

After she left the hospital, Fisher was able to go to an assisted living facility where she had worked. They even let her bring her cat, Mr. Wuss Wuss. Defying the odds, Fisher got well enough to return to her own apartment in June.

She has a daughter in Riverview who visited after work every day. Fisher said she quickly put an end to that, as it was too much for her daughter to work, take care of her own family and visit Fisher every day.

Hospice clients with a survival prognosis of three months or less will be eligible to move into the Hospice House. At that point, 80 percent are in a wheelchair or bedridden.

They'll be encouraged to bring mementos and even small pieces of furniture with them to the eight-bedroom facility. It hasn't been decided whether they can bring pets.

At the Hospice House, each bedroom will have a lanai that can be accessed by a wheelchair; even the bed can be rolled out there to give the patient some fresh air.

Each also will have a fold-out couch so a friend or relative can stay overnight. Residents who are up to it can cook in the kitchen or take their meals in the dining room. There also will be a living room and a counseling room.

Ground was broken Sept. 1 on the Sun City Center Hospice House, which will cost about $1.1-million to build.

Fernandez has experienced the challenges of caring for a dying relative. Her mother died at home under hospice care, with Fernandez as her primary caregiver. She bathed her bedridden mother, helped her with bedpans, turned her into more comfortable positions and gave her medicine, among many other tasks.

"My mom only lived seven days after she came home from the hospital, and it was absolutely the most difficult job of my life," she said.

Medicare or Medicaid pay for hospice services, said Fernandez. Patients who don't have insurance are charged on a sliding scale. Nobody is turned away, regardless of their ability to pay, she said.

_ Linda Gibson can be reached at (813) 226-3382 or