Anew hospice home in Visalia wants to help families cherish their remaining days with a loved one just as they would celebrate a newborn’s first weeks of life.

The Open Arms House is set to open its doors in early summer, with the goal of providing a compassionate, holistic approach to end-of-life care, attending to the needs of the patient’s body, mind, and spirit in a home setting.

This type of care is referred to as a Social Hospice Model, and the Open Arms House will be the first of its kind in the Central Valley, and the fourth such home in the state of California. The social hospice model is a community-based, end-of-life care home, and is part of a growing trend in the United States.

The nearly 4,000 sq. ft. home, at 3234 W. Iris St. in Visalia, will accommodate six residents ages 19 and older for stays ranging on average from two to four weeks.

“Families will be able to spend time with their loved one without the burden of caregiving,” said Carol Nickel, board president of the non- pro t organization that is bringing this new model of care to the Central Valley. “They will also get much-needed emotional support from staff and volunteers.”

According to an article from the Center to Advance Palliative Care, despite patients’ and families’ wishes, the United States health care system funnels the dying into a frustrating cycle of repeated hospitalization and institutionalization at the end of life.

But for those who have articulated a desire to die at home, hospice care has provided the avenue and services needed to die at home. Unfortunately, dying at home is not always possible — expensive modifications may need to be made to the home or perhaps the patient does not have adequate caregivers or resources. This is where the social model hospice care home steps in as an option for both patient and family, and has the ability to revolutionize end-of-life care in the United States.

As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the need for hospice care will increase. And like its earlier predecessors, the Open Arms House will be designed for patients who have expressed a desire to spend their final days in a home-like setting. It is also a way for families to provide their loved one with a gentle environment for their final days, away from the beeping monitors, tubes, and sterile environment associated with a medical hospice model. It’s even a respite for caregivers, too, who often want to be at their loved one’s side until their last breath.

This “home-away-from-home” will provide patient care with a combination of paid caregivers, family members, and volunteers, in partnership with the patient’s medical hospice service provider. In this area, the Open Arms House will work equally with Kaweah Delta Hospice, Optimal Hospice, Gentiva Hospice, Adventist Hospice, and Sojourn Hospice.

A DREAM BECOMES REALITY

For Carol, a Visalia native who found her calling as a hospice nurse, retirement doesn’t mean slowing down. In fact, with near full-time zeal, Carol, along with the guidance of a dynamic board of directors, took the

Open Arms House from concept to reality in less than two years.

“This should have taken years to accomplish, but I give credit to a higher power. I can’t explain it any other way,” said Carol. “The momentum has taken on a life of its own.”

In the summer of 2015, board members toured two other social model hospice homes in Southern California, Our Community House of Hope in Thousand Oaks and the Sarah House in Santa Barbara. Afterward, they were convinced that Tulare and Kings counties families needed this option.

Six months later, they set about drafting bylaws, opening a bank account with their rst donation, and establishing their nonprofit status (received in January 2016 from the IRS in a record 10 days). Using their contacts in the health care, private, and civic communities, the board of directors secured financial support from a wide range of benefactors. The Kaweah Delta Hospice Foundation Board approved a $300,000 no-interest loan for
the purchase of the home on Iris

Street, which had a speedy 30-day escrow. Architectural changes were drawn by Larry Lewis, Mountain Vista Construction was hired, and remodeling began soon afterward.

With the generous support of community members and a matching donation from the Lyles-Porter Family, the three-bedroom home was enlarged to six bedrooms, with the three-car garage converted to a conference room, office space, storage, and laundry. Remodel costs and landscaping are expected to top $250,000. When the home is complete, it will open with a full year’s budget in the bank.

The amount of community support the project has received touches Carol and fellow board member Clare Whitlatch, who sat down with Lifestyle Magazine to discuss the project following a tour of the construction site.

“It gives me goosebumps to think about,” said Carol. Clare added that many of the donors have taken ownership of the project, checking on the remodeling process and getting regular updates on progress.

“It’s a reality check for all of us,”she said. “We will all need this type of care.”

“The end of life should be as beautiful as the beginning,” said Carol. “We’re all going to die, so we might as well do it well.”

The home will operate with a Residential Care Facility for the Elderly (RCFE) license, overseen by the Department of Social Services rather than the Department of Health, thus placing it outside the current health care regulatory environment. It will not receive reimbursement from Medicare, MediCal, or private insurance, except for long-term care insurance a resident may have.

The cost of care is expected to be about $250 a day for each resident. While the Open Arms House board of directors would like to provide care at no cost to families, residents will be asked to pay a daily rate based on their ability to do so. Community support and grants will sustain the operation of the home, which is anticipated to be about $400,000 a year.

Nickel said a consultant has been hired to assist with the licensure process, and two administrators and an executive director will be hired in the spring, thus keeping that momentum rolling toward a summer grand opening.

UPON OPENING, A SPECIAL RENAMING

Visalian Ruth Wood was an early supporter of bringing hospice care to the area in the 1980s and was a founder of Hospice of Tulare County. Upon her passing on March 30, 2016, her dear friend Marybeth Lyles-Porter Seay pulled Ruth’s family aside to discuss a new hospice home that would be built in Visalia.

Husband Rev. Harry Wood, beloved former pastor of Visalia United Methodist Church, shared a touching scene: Ruth had endured a fifth and final stroke and would not survive. She was moved from Fresno

Community Hospital to Delta Nursing and Rehabilitation Hospital in Visalia to spend her nal days. Her care was overseen by hospice nurses who not only tended to Ruth’s needs, but also counseled and comforted her family during their intense grief and 24-hour vigils spread over 10 days.

“They made it as easy as it could be,” said Harry.

“When Marybeth came to bid a tearful goodbye to Ruth, we prayed and sang and cried,” said Harry. “When it was over, we walked outside and Marybeth said her family would be offering its nancial support to the Open Arms House, and that she would like it to be known as the Ruth Wood Open Arms Home. We all started crying again.”

The Wood and the Lyles-Porter families will memorialize Ruth’s memory not only through a new name for the home, but through its mission.

“The motivation clearly comes from our faith, but it’s not sectarian in any way,” said Harry. “Ruth would be delighted to know that this has happened. She was a very kind woman and she would love to be associated with such a kind project.”

The Open Arms House Mission Statement: “To provide a home for end-of-life care where every life matters to the last breath and no one dies alone.” For more information, go to www.openarmshouse.org