A community effort is underway to establish a hospice center to care for dying patients who don’t have a home or caregivers at the end of their life.

Grace House Akron, a nonprofit organization of community members and hospice professionals, wants to build a six-bed home near downtown Akron to provide free care.

The idea of Grace House Akron came about when hospice professionals saw homeless patients and those without the financial means or relationships to have caregivers falling through the cracks, said Dr. Steven “Skip” Radwany, a longtime Summa hospice and palliative medicine physician, researcher and educator.

“Nobody should be alone at the end of their life,” Radwany said. “Everybody deserves to be treated like we would want our own family to be treated.”

Hospice care often is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. Some patients stay at inpatient facilities, such as those run by Summa Health or Cleveland Clinic Akron General.

But under federal Medicare guidelines, only the most seriously ill patients or those who are days or hours from death and are in severe pain are usually in those facilities, Radwany said.

Home hospice benefits don’t cover basic caregiver services, such as 24-hour care or feeding.

Radwany, a board member for Grace House Akron, and his wife, Dr. Julia Radwany, a Summa internal medicine physician, and the board of trustees are hosting a launch event this Thursday at the Akron Civic Theatre to introduce the Grace House Akron idea to the community and gather support.

‘Place of acceptance’

The name Grace House was chosen because the word grace “in many languages means favor or gift,” said Holly Klein, a hospice nurse for 20 years. Klein, the volunteer executive director for the group, will become the paid executive director once the house is up and running.

“It’s a gift and a place of acceptance where somebody can just come and be,” Klein said. “They don’t have to worry about anything. It’s just a good place.”

Klein and others have been working on the effort for about three years and specifically since the fall, when the organization received its tax-exempt status.

“You’re just seeing these people and you know they’re having deaths that are just not dignified,” she said. “They’re alone. There’s no one to care for them.

“We’ve found patients who were alone when they passed and who knows what that death was like. It was just really for me a sense of purpose and desire to help those who aren’t able to help themselves.”

Organizers are modeling Grace House after a similar charity called Malachi House in Cleveland.

Klein said Grace House Akron is looking for a location for the new hospice that’s close to downtown Akron with access to bus lines for patients and employees.

Six-bedroom house

The goal is to have a six-bedroom, single-level house with about 5,500 square feet and a bathroom in each bedroom.

The hospice would house as many as six patients at a time, each in private bedrooms.

The group is finding that rehabbing an existing house or structure would likely cost more than building a new home. A 1.5- to 2-acre lot within the city ­— either vacant or with a building that could be razed — would be ideal, Klein said. The group has been working with the Summit Land Bank and county and city officials.

“I would really love to be in the Middlebury area,” said Klein, of the area east of downtown Akron. “It’s central to the population we would be serving.”

But Klein said she is “open to anything that is workable.”

The group still is determining how much money it needs to raise to acquire property and build the house. Klein estimates operational costs to be $500,000 per year.

Klein said individual hospice organizations would be able to bring their qualifying patients to the Grace House and provide care for them at the facility while Grace House employees would offer other round-the-clock caregiving.

Hospice services could be covered by Medicare or Medicaid.

The many organizations working together on the hospice effort have a shared goal, said Karen Mullen, president of Cleveland Clinic Akron General Visiting Nurse Service, which operates a home care hospice division and the Justin T. Rogers Hospice Care Center in Fairlawn.

“There’s a lot of passion involved in this and wanting to care for folks in a dignified manner,” said Mullen, a Grace House board member.

Medical writer Betty Lin-Fisher can be reached at 330-996-3724 or blinfisher@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her @blinfisherABJ on Twitter or www.facebook.com/BettyLinFisherABJ and see all her stories at www.ohio.com/betty.