Published Jan. 27, 2010|Updated Jan. 27, 2010

The Gulfside Center for Hospice Care soon will soon open its doors to a community in need. The excitement about this special home has been mounting for quite some time. This is how we got here and why we feel so blessed to be able to serve the public.

Three years ago, following an incredible surge of population in Pasco County and proof to the state that there was an unmet hospice need, Gulfside Regional Hospice was awarded a certificate of need (CON) to build an inpatient care center. We purchased a beautiful parcel of land from a local Zephyrhills couple and envisioned a future of serving patients and families in a one-of-a-kind campus, full of beauty, nature, serenity, and unique therapeutic offerings.

While we were preparing for the CON application process, I encountered a life-changing experience. My father was admitted to our Lafayette Hospice House in New Port Richey with a very short prognosis. Quickly my mother, six siblings and I rushed to Dad's side. We basically moved in and remained in the hospice house through his final days.

That experience was pivotal in understanding just how important hospice can be for a patient and his family - especially a large Italian family!

I witnessed first hand the special care and compassion that patients and their loved ones receive. I am very proud to be associated with such a fine and expert team of care professionals, seasoned in and skilled in such complex service provision.

But something else happened along the way. It was the vision of creating a new and unique home for patients, accented by cultural, therapeutic and environmental surroundings that enhance the life of every person entering through our doors.

I dreamed of the experience for anyone, whether he or she was the patient, a family member, an employee, a visitor, a vendor, a business partner, a volunteer or a friend. The best experience each person can feel is immediate relief from burden and stress.

For families, the caregiver load is very great. So walking through our doors will give instant reprieve. For others, the environment will captivate you. You will become enamored with the creative architectural and decorative layout and design. The Tuscan Village Square is so inviting that you will not want to miss sitting by the fountain with a delicious cappuccino.

Most importantly, this journey brings a therapeutic experience like no other for future patients at the Gulfside Center for Hospice Care. Because my father loved nature, because he loved to fish and because he loved the outdoors, this center offers patients a chance to experience just that.

Patients can move from spacious and eloquently decorated rooms to a screened lanai, as well as an outdoor oasis of a fishing pond, wandering paths, butterfly gardens and rose gardens.

Patients, families and children can fish in the pond, sit on park benches and take in the pond fountain and beautiful surroundings. The lanai doors have been built wide enough for a hospital bed to pass through, allowing each patient the outdoor experience.

Gulfside Regional Hospice has come full circle from its early beginnings as a small community hospice, to a large county-wide hospice and palliative care organization, serving close to 500 patients daily.

Join us 5 to 8 p.m, Feb. 5 as we celebrate with the community the opening of Gulfside Center for Hospice Care at 5760 Dean Dairy Road in Zephyrhills.

Linda Ward is president and CEO of Gulfside Regional Hospice