A location has been chosen for Grace House Akron, a nonprofit organization that will operate a hospice home center to care for dying patients who don't have a home or caregivers.

At a reception Friday night, the organization made up of community members and hospice professionals announced it is purchasing land near Summa St. Thomas Hospital from Summa Health for $10.

The 0.7-acre corner lot is at 475 N. Howard St. at Olive Street (also known as Dr. Bob’s Way in honor of the Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder). It used to house a long-vacant doctors’ office building called the Cityview Medical Building owned by Summa, said Dr. Cliff Deveny, Summa president and CEO. The building was demolished within the last six months, he said.

Grace House had been looking with the help of the city and Summit County Land Bank for a building near downtown Akron and on city bus lines that it could either renovate to turn into a six-bedroom home or a vacant piece of land.

The group quickly realized that it would cost more to renovate a building than to build new, said Holly Klein, the volunteer president whose position will be paid once the house is operational.

Deveny, who attended Grace House’s launch party in April, suggested the vacant parcel.

“As we looked to repurpose the whole St. Thomas campus," Deveny said, Summa officials knew there was a better purpose for the spot where the Cityview Building had sat vacant for 20 years.

The parcel is perfect for Grace House’s needs, said Nick Browning, Huntington regional president for the Akron region, a Summa board member and president of the Grace House board.

“Everybody should be able to die with dignity. We will help them do that,” Browning said.

The house is modeled after Cleveland’s Malachi House, a 16-bed home. There are about 50 similar homes around the country, Klein said.

Grace House will not provide hospice care, which will be provided at the house by hospices who will provide their patients with medical staff and equipment. Grace House’s staff will care for, bathe and cook and serve as the family members, Klein said.

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

But under 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. Most hospice is provided in a home.

While a large number of hospice patients are near death, the hospice benefit is available and renewable when people are given six months to live under their current conditions. Some can live on hospice for years.

But home hospice benefits don't cover basic caregiver services, such as 24-hour care or feeding, Klein said.

The name Grace House was chosen because the word grace "in many languages means favor or gift," said Klein, a hospice nurse for 20 years.

“I saw these patients falling through the gaps,” she said.

It’s putting a big strain on the hospice programs who are sending staff to homes more frequently than they are being reimbursed through the federal programs or insurance, Klein said.

“We took care of patients in motels. We would find patients who passed away alone. They couldn’t call us to help them. We witnessed patients dying in undignified conditions,” she said.

Hospice patients are usually unable to get out of bed or provide self-care, said Dr. Skip Radwany, an Ohio State professor of medicine and palliative medicine who spent 32 years at Summa.

“There’s a moral imperative of course to not let these people suffer alone and without support,” Grace House board member Radwany said. “There’s a financial imperative for the community, too, if they get the right care at the right time.”

Dying patients often aren’t getting enrolled in hospice care or are showing up to the emergency rooms in crisis, which costs the hospitals in charity care.

Grace House will look like a regular house, Klein said. It will be a one-floor, L-shaped structure with six private rooms — each with a bathroom — that open to a common courtyard.

There will be a common dining room and small table in each room. There will also be a chapel for nondenominational prayer or meditation.

The 7,000-square-foot home needs permission from the city of Akron to be rezoned for a conditional use from its existing commercial use.

The group Friday also launched its $2 million capital campaign — $1.2 million to build the house and for two years of operating expenses. Deveny is chair of the campaign. The organization will also apply for grants, Klein said.

GPD Group of Akron donated architectural work and Triad of Akron donated website work.

Klein hopes to break ground in the spring and be open in the fall of 2020. There will be eight paid caregivers who will staff the house 24 hours a day. An unpaid volunteer coordinator will hopefully have a host of volunteers to help with house needs, Klein said.

Some churches have already expressed interest to help with meal preparation, Klein said.

Most referrals will likely come from hospice programs, she said. Patients do not have to be a resident of Summit County, but must be enrolled in a hospice program, not have a caregiver or not able to pay for a private caregiver.

Klein said there will be no time limit for patients to stay, though using national statistics, she estimates the average stay will be 40 to 50 days and 30 percent of all admissions pass away within seven days.

“The whole intent is for them to come and feel like they’re at home and feel like they’re at peace,” Klein said. “There may be times when I have to triage if we have two to three people who would like to come and I have to take the sickest or most imminent.”

 

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/topics/linfisher