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Family, Friends Celebrate Reprieve for AIDS Hospice : Health: Facility had been threatened with reduction in services. Lobbying of lawmakers kept funding intact.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Relieved by a last-minute financial reprieve from Sacramento, friends, lovers and relatives closed their eyes in prayer Sunday to remember more than 500 residents who have passed through Los Angeles’ largest hospice for people in the final stages of AIDS.

The event at the Chris Brownlie Hospice in Elysian Park was billed as a celebration, but it was colored by anger at the threat of budget cuts that would have forced a drastic reduction in services offered by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, organizers said.

The hospice’s supporters lobbied lawmakers for a week with calls, letters and visits and the Assembly voted late Saturday to restore Medi-Cal funding for patients who opt for the relatively inexpensive care offered by hospices.

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“We were outraged at the suggestion of cutting it and relieved at its restoration,” said Michael Weinstein, president of the foundation, which operates two hospices and is about to open a third.

Hospice care, which relies on pain relief and emotional support, costs about $200 a day, he said, compared to $900 and up for the more aggressive medical care provided by hospitals.

“While we’ve preserved our place in the lifeboat, we’re still very concerned,” Weinstein said. “We can’t take for granted that there will always be a place where people can die in dignity because it can always be cut.”

The organization gets about half its $7 million yearly budget from Medi-Cal payments. It also relies on federal funds and private donations, including money raised from its two “Out of the Closet” thrift shops.

As hawks circled overhead and the sun shone on the brown hillsides of Elysian Park, Paul Daniels told a crowd of 100 or so about the death of Dennis Joyce, his companion of 10 years.

Joyce was a self-employed contractor who, as he sank into the fevers of full-blown AIDS, had no medical insurance and no support network to care for him in his final days, Daniels said.

Without the hospice, he said, “Dennis would have died on the streets.”

A typical stay at the 25-bed hospice, formerly a residence for nurses at the Barlow Respiratory Hospital, averages six weeks, staffers said.

One of the senior residents is Martin Basquez-Feliz, a 26-year-old house painter from Durango, Mexico, who shivered occasionally as he spoke in the building’s sunny sitting room.

Basquez-Feliz, a resident for eight months, lifted his T-shirt to show a length of intravenous tubing that leads to his heart. The tubing is the lifeline through which nurses administer drugs.

“Without this hospice I would have to stay home,” he said, “but it was very difficult for my sister to take care of me.”


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