By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Building a House for Hope in Our Community

November, 2008 Issue

Your Health Connection Magazine

Working in the hospice field for more than a decade, Teresa Wolf will never forget the time she met a single, 49-year-old mother of four who was dying of ovarian cancer with no money and no extended family to help. The Thousand Oaks resident had daughters ranging from 5 to 15 years old.

“She became bedridden, and the 15-year-old had to take care of her,” recalled Wolf, who was working as a volunteer for hospice at the time. “A 15-year-old is not prepared to see her mother dying.”

Frantic to find a place where the woman could live her final days, Wolf was hit with a harsh reality: because this mother was low-income, her options were scarce. As a result, she died in her home without adequate medical attention or proper care.

“It must have been so terrifying to those little girls as they watched her dwindle was a very, very sad experience,” Wolf said.

The bottom line is that hospitals simply can't afford end-of-life care for everyone who's dying.

“It's $4,000 a day for end-of-life care,” Wolf said. “So hospitals need these patients to go back into their home or tap into community resources, and there are no community resources. We're really in a deep problem.”

A person’s final days can be some of the most sacred, and as we approach life's ending, it also needs to be a time of great sacredness and dignity—an opportunity to find inner peace, Wolf said. “For this to happen, there needs to be a special place provided where the possibility of spiritual healing can be made available to everyone.”

With this vision, Our Community House of Hope was born.

“The vision grew from this belief and the desire to ease suffering,” said Wolf, who founded the organization along with Ruth Klein, a nurse active in hospice work both here in the U.S. and in her native country of Denmark.

In the planning phase, Our Community House of Hope—OCHH—will be a “loving alternative for end-of- life care.” This vision is shared by a group of health care professionals and community leaders who plan to build an eight-bed residence to serve those in need of care in the last three months of their lives.

OCHH’s immediate plan is to lease a four-bed home and begin operating in the spring of 2009.

“All of our services will be FREE OF CHARGE to our patients and their families,” said Wolf, emphasizing that the organization will depend on the support of individuals, corporations, community groups, fundraising events, grants, and foundations to survive financially.

“Emphasis will be placed on meeting the emotional, social and spiritual needs of residents and families,” said Klein. “Medical care for patients will be overseen by outside medical hospice nursing agencies.”

Medical hospice agencies do not include 24-hour caregiving but rather provide intermittent services from a variety of disciplines. OCHH will provide the 24-hour care needed by so many individuals in the community.

“The facts that Ruth and I discovered showed increasing numbers of elderly and indigent patients without proper access to care. It was a sobering picture at best,” said Wolf.

California’s population of those 65 or older is 3.8 million—the largest number in any state—rising at a 20 percent rate. One in three of those over 65 are living alone, without a caregiver or family support. “Six percent of California seniors are living below the poverty level,” Wolf said. “These seniors are at risk as they approach the end of their lives, with few alternatives for care.”

Many terminally ill patients in need of care are often under age 65 without insurance and often without any means of medical, financial or family support.

“There are no affordable end-of-life homes to serve these isolated and low-income individuals in Ventura or Northwestern L.A. Counties. The primary service area for OCHH will include Thousand Oaks, Westlake Village, Newbury Park, Agoura, Calabasas, Malibu, Simi Valley, Moorpark and Camarillo.

In Ventura County alone, medical hospice agency social workers see at least 50 people a month who need this type of care. In 2008, more than 1,500 Ventura County residents will have end-of-life care needs—such as a safe place to die and/or a caregiver—but will have no resources to pay for their care.

“America has become fragmented with the family, so you come across these low-income people with no family connections,” Wolf said. “What are they going to do when they become terminally ill?”

Flashback to 2005 when the idea began with a handful of people who had the desire to make their vision a reality: Within a year, the committee grew to more than 30 members—including doctors, nurses, hospice volunteers, accountants, architects, builders and event planners—each have had a personal experience with death and dying that made them aware of the demand to help those in need of a compassionate, caring home as they face the end of their lives.

OCHH achieved nonprofit status in 2007, and is now actively fundraising and raising awareness throughout the community.

Their immediate goal is to have the first OCHH in operation in rented property by spring 2009. This home will serve 160 patients annually. OCHH needs $250,000 to open its doors, and the future goal is to build a dream home for $5 million that will not only care for patients but serve as a model for other end-of-life care homes throughout the country.

In addition to serving the terminally ill, OCHH will operate as an educational center for students interested in end-of-life care from various universities and community programs. The training of students in palliative care will help thousands of terminally ill individuals over the career of a trained professional.

“With every accomplishment, our dream is coming into view,” Wolf said. “A community can be judged by how it cares for its most vulnerable members. What better opportunity for service exists than in caring for each other during this final transition? OCHH believes that an end-of-life home is a great opportunity to tap into the deep generosity of the human spirit and will bring more pride and compassion to our community.”

To become a part of this vision and to see upcoming events, visit, email or call 805.377.1907.

To hear this story on Alicia's radio segment, click on the link below:

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