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Delayed AIDS Hospice Receives Temporary OK to Accept Patients

Times Staff Writer

The long-awaited Chris Brownlie AIDS Hospice in Elysian Park has stood empty since it opened Dec. 5 because of a dispute over its Fire Code status, but city officials late Thursday gave the facility temporary permission to begin accepting patients.

City fire and building officials blamed the delays on inexperienced hospice operators for failing to seek the proper permits, while operators of the Elysian Park facility blamed city red tape. “At last count, we’ve lost seven people who were scheduled to come in, who have died during the last 10 days,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Hospice Foundation that runs the facility.

He said the hospice had also spent $25,000 on staff costs to run an empty building.

Both sides said the problem stemmed more from confusion over a 4-month-old state law designed to license such hospices than from actual fire danger. The Elysian Park facility is the first t1864397669governor in September.

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At the heart of the issue is whether the two-story wood building can legally house terminally ill patients requiring nursing care, who could not help themselves in case of fire. Under existing codes, such facilities must be housed in fireproof buildings, such as concrete-block hospitals.

Both Fire Marshal Craig Drummond and Tim Taylor, chief of the Los Angeles Building Bureau, said that hospice administrators were told when they sought permits last spring that the wood-frame construction of the building would make it impossible to use it as a special-care facility for bed-bound patients.

“That was very, very clear,” Taylor said.

At that time, the hospice foundation sought instead a less restrictive permit that would allow it to operate as a dormitory. The building, a former nurses’ quarters that the foundation rents for $1 a year from Barlow Hospital, was equipped with full sprinklers, smoke alarms and fire doors and met qualifications for a dormitory, Taylor said.

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In September, the hospice law passed, setting up a new category of licensed facility that would allow terminally ill people to be cared for in a “non-institutional, home-like setting.”

City officials said the new law did not change old Fire and Safety codes. Weinstein said that, at least in spirit, it did.

“We’re creating a new institution, a residential hospice, and we’re doing it in the context of the worst public health crisis in the modern era,” Weinstein said. “And the city departments, rather than sitting down with everyone to facilitate this, they came in, took the most restrictive approach possible. . . . They have not been operating in the spirit of the law.”

Several Meetings

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It took several meetings and the intervention of the mayor’s office to resolve the issue, those involved said.

“Because of a lack of certain fire protection systems, patients have been limited to the first floor,” Taylor said.

He added that a large commercial stove cannot be used until the Fire Department approves the building’s fire protection system.

“We’ve given the hospice 10 days to comply fully with requirements, or we’re going to revoke its permit for occupancy,” Taylor said.

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Some last-minute requirements, including the construction of a fire wall between the two floors, were being completed Thursday evening.

“I think the Fire Department is just trying to make sure this is safe,” said Wendy Greuel, an administrative aide to Mayor Tom Bradley, who has been involved in the talks.

“On the hospice side, they’re just trying to get the building open. I think on the whole, a lot of the confusion is because this is the first one to be licensed under the law . . . and I think we’re all trying to work this out as quickly as possible.”

With the approvals granted Thursday, as many as six acquired immune deficiency syndrome patients could be spending Christmas in the 25-bed facility, which has been decorated for the holiday and had planned Christmas programs for the terminally ill.

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The hospice is to be the largest of its kind in the county to offer 24-hour medical care. It is named for Chris Brownlie, an AIDS activist and patient who is a director of Aids Hospice Foundation.


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