Hoping for Hospice

Ground was recently broken for a 24-bed hospice to care for terminally ill patients who need medical services beyond those that can be provided at home. Funds for the land and the building were donated to San Diego Hospice three years ago by the Joan B. Kroc Foundation.

But, in spite of the optimistic ground breaking, a hoped-for 1989 opening is still elusive because the hospice lacks the money to operate.

Much rests with a state bill that would allow the new hospice to be reimbursed for acute medical services. The hospice now provides nurses, social workers, home health aides and chaplains, mostly in the patient’s home.

But, when a patient needs acute care, he must go to a hospital and adjust to new care givers at an especially traumatic time. The proposed hospice would provide much of this medical care, in a setting where the family could stay with the patient and with a philosophy that is geared toward comforting the dying rather than unnecessarily prolonging life.


The bill passed the Legislature last year but was vetoed by Gov. George Deukmejian. This year’s bill, sponsored by Sen. Ken Maddy (R-Fresno), has passed the Senate and is in the Assembly, where passage is expected in the next few weeks.

The question is whether the governor will sign the bill this year. The governor and the state Department of Health Services see the Maddy bill as aiding one facility only. We disagree. The hospice movement is still evolving and this facility has the promise of being a model. For instance, San Diego Hospice recently received a $460,000 grant to develop a national education and research program to help train health care professionals elsewhere.

With the AIDS epidemic, the need for hospice services is growing and, as word spreads, so is the demand. San Diego Hospice now serves 1,000 patients a year, including about 25% of the terminal cancer population in its service area.

If SB 2468 fails to obtain Deukmejian Administration support this time, hospice officials say construction will be delayed, probably at least a year.

We urge the Department of Health Services and the governor’s office to take a chance on this concept, which already has strong community support and much of the financing. Private support such as the Kroc grant should not go begging.