April 17, 2014

Anam Cara Hospice to Open in Topanga

 

Los Angeles Hospice at Anam Cara, the first free-standing private, non-medical hospice in Los Angeles County, is scheduled to open in Topanga in the spring of 2014.

Anam Cara is located on N. Topanga Canyon Boulevard, a stone’s throw from the Great Topanga Art Wall and Froggy’s. Renovation will begin this fall and entails the remodeling of a large private residence into a six-bedroom residential care facility. Anam Cara bills itself as a non-medical, social model home-away-from-home facility that provides care in a holistic manner, encompassing mind, body and spirit through pain management and emotional support services that include music, meditation and yoga in an Eden-like natural environment.

Anan Cara was established by Mitch Metzner, Ph.D., Director, and Gabe Gelbart, CFO, who provided the seed money for the non-profit 501(c)3 organization.

Dr. Metzner indicated that Anam Cara, which means “Soul Friend” in Celtic, hopes to provide a peaceful, healing place to care for terminally ill individuals and their loved ones in the last two months of life. He said that the organization is committed to providing compassionate, dignified, quality care that will support the natural process that occurs in the final days of life. The hospice will also have a learning center for education on end-of-life issues.

The private residence will undergo a minor remodeling. A central social and dining area will allow residents and their loved ones to participate in daily communal dining. The three-story, three-bath home will have a wheelchair lift and a large master suite for family members to stay in during a resident’s final days.

Anam Cara will take advantage of the natural beauty of Topanga, with the Topanga Creek running through the property. Each of the six rooms will have a balcony that will allow residents to move outdoors each day to take in the sun, the view and the birds. Moveable Japanese shoji-style doors will separate the main bedrooms from the communal living area, encouraging residents to socialize with volunteers and staff, yet can be closed for privacy as desired.

The concept of hospice as a place of refuge for the incurably ill has been evolving since the eleventh century and came to the United States in the 1970s in response to the work of Cicely Saunders of the United Kingdom. In the United States, hospice has largely been associated with medical hospice services provided by medical institutions and Medicare-funded, mobile in-home hospice agencies that provide limited medical and support care to patients. A misperception regarding hospice is that only individuals suffering from cancer or AIDS can receive hospice care. Hospice in the United States originally evolved around the model of cancer care, with its predictable pattern of deterioration.

However, any life-shortening diagnosis that is expected to be terminal within six months, is a qualifying diagnosis for hospice care. Anam Cara’s residents will be admitted after their physician indicates they have two months or less to live.

Dr. Metzner has worked in the hospice field for more than 30 years, both as a social scientist and as a caregiver. He was involved with the hospice movement in Los Angeles that emerged from the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s. With the advent of AIDS drug cocktails, the last of any independent, non-medical Los Angeles hospices closed several years ago. Dr. Metzner explained that he felt a need to bring in-home type hospice care back to Los Angeles through his experience as an end-of-life caregiver. Studies show that more than 90 percent of Americans wish to die at home, but in reality, more than 70 percent die in medical institutions.

“Anam Cara hopes to provide a beautiful alternative to this kind of institutional care,” Dr. Metzner said.

Gabe Gelbart, Dr. Metzner’s partner and co-founder of Anam Cara, serves as the organization’s CFO. Gelbart, who works as a senior architect at a Los Angeles firm, met Dr. Metzner nearly two years ago after losing his partner of many years from a long-term illness and was motivated to explore end-of-life issues. Gelbart subsequently became involved along with Dr. Metzner with The Twilight Brigade, a national hospice volunteer training and veterans’ service organization.

Gelbart’s hope is that funds provided by clients, donations and privately paid fees will support Anam Cara. The staff will consist partly of volunteers and will have certified nurse assistants or the equivalent providing 24-hour care.

Each resident will come to Anam Cara already having an independent hospice team in place, which consists of a physician, a nurse, a nurse’s aide, a social worker, a chaplain and a volunteer. These individuals provide weekly mobile hospice service, which is paid independently of Anam Cara by Medicare or private insurance. This team will be the same group that a patient utilizes when transferred from his or her home to Anam Cara. Regardless of funding issues, Dr. Metzner said that Anam Cara serves families who can no longer take care of a family member by offering an alternative to skilled nursing homes and hospitals.

Often, family caregivers are exhausted from providing meals, baths, and 24-hour care for extended periods of time. Skilled nursing is often viewed as a less-desirable alternative to dying patients who cannot afford a private facility when their family resources are exhausted. Dr. Metzner views Anam Cara as an alternative that gives residents an opportunity for what he calls “a good death.”For more information, contact the Los Angeles Hospice at Anam Cara at (310) 455-0419.