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Governor’s Signature Clears Way for Hillcrest Hospice for the Dying

Times Staff Writer

Gov. George Deukmejian on Friday signed emergency legislation that will allow the proposed San Diego Hospice to open a 24-bed center for the terminally ill on Vauclain Point in Hillcrest.

The measure, written by Assemblywoman Lucy Killea (D-San Diego), creates a new category of hospital license for the hospice, which will essentially be a small hospital without the lifesaving services of surgeons and anesthesiologists.

Until now, California law has failed to recognize acute-care centers for the dying that are not connected to full-service hospitals.

“We’re thrilled,” said True Ryndes, a hospice vice president. “This is a sign that the community is fully behind us, from the person on the street to the governor. We couldn’t be more excited.”

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Kroc ‘Delighted’

Ryndes said passage of the legislation ensures that the balance of a pending $18-million grant from the Joan B. Kroc Foundation will be forthcoming. Ryndes said he notified Kroc of the governor’s action Friday and she was “delighted.”

Kroc Foundation counsel Beth Benes said the governor’s signing of Killea’s bill clears the way for the foundation to resume funding construction of the hospice. The grant was suspended when the hospice corporation’s ability to obtain a license was in doubt.

“We’ll be going forward now,” said Benes, who added that about $4 million of the grant has already been given to the hospice corporation.

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Construction of the hospice is expected to begin in March. The center’s doors should open by the fall of 1990, Ryndes said.

Hospice officials have been struggling to obtain a license to operate from the state Health Department since 1985.

Refused to Grant License

The department refused to license the proposed facility as an acute-care hospital because it will not have any lifesaving capacity. But hospice promoters argued that the center, as a place meant to help people die peacefully, does not need the doctors and equipment required to extend life.

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But, even after the Health Department agreed to the concept, legislation to create the “special hospital” licensing category was blocked last year by the California hospital industry, which feared lower-priced competition from centers that could bill themselves as acute-care hospitals without having the expenses facing full-service hospitals.

The industry dropped its opposition only after the licensing provision was turned into a four-year demonstration project involving just the San Diego hospice and two other sites in the state.

Ryndes predicted that the pilot program will prove that free-standing, acute-care hospices are the best way to help the terminally ill overcome periods when their symptoms prevent friends, relatives or nurses from caring for them at home.

“This now provides a very enriched environment to do that, where the staff doesn’t have to divide their attention between people who are going to get better and people who are not,” he said.

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