Hospital Offers New Comfort to Terminally Ill

Times Staff Writer

Cedars-Sinai Medical Center will open a hospice ward next month to help terminally ill patients and their families come to terms with death.

The ward, one of the first of its kind in Los Angeles, expands the hospital's 5-year-old outpatient hospice program to inpatient care, said Dr. Robert Taub, medical director of the program.

"It will be for patients with symptoms so acute or pain so severe that they cannot be managed at home," Taub said.

The hospital now treats such patients in hospital rooms scattered around its complex near Beverly and La Cienega boulevards, he said.

After the new 20-bed ward opens April 9, the terminally ill will receive care from trained nurses and other specialists in a centralized location, Taub said.

Doctors and other staff members at Cedars-Sinai modeled the new hospice ward largely on facilities in England and Canada but adapted it to American standards. There are only two or three other hospice wards in Los Angeles, including one at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Westwood and one at Kaiser Permanente in Norwalk.

A Home Environment

The new facility, funded in large part by the hospital's women's guild, will be decorated with homelike wallpaper and furniture.

"We're going to make it a home environment, where families can visit and children can maybe play with the patient," said Ruth Fox, a member of the guild's board of directors.

The guild, whose members include the wives of several celebrities, has contributed about $550,000 a year to the hospice program since it began in 1980, she said.

There have been 858 patients in the program during that period, she said, almost all of them cancer victims.

The hospital's daily rate is $333, generally covered by insurance or Medicare, and the average in-patient stay is expected to run about 10 to 14 days. Most patients will receive hospice treatment, including in-patient and out-patient care, for an average of four months.

The program includes medical treatment to reduce pain and alleviate other symptoms. Additionally, psychiatrists, social workers, clergymen and nurses meet frequently with the family and continue to work with them after the death of the patient.

"Things work out terribly unless the family is included up front," said Taub, an oncology and hematology specialist. He said that obstetrics is the only other field of medicine in which care extends beyond the patient.

"You can't take care of the patient and tell the family to take care of themselves," he said. "It seems to be at the beginning and at the end that we pay attention to families."

In fact, most patients with a life expectancy of less than six months are better off spending their remaining time at home with their families, Taub said.

"The families," Taub said, "can do much better at a particularly bad time if they can participate in providing care rather than be in a hospital setting, where families tend to be excluded.

"It's better if people stay at home, die at home, never come back to the hospital--as long as they can get the care they need."

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