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Hospice of Western Reserve boosts Summit County presence

February 5, 2012 – Akron Beacon Journal


Wendy Malec, R.N., a hospice nurse with Hospice of the Western Reserve, checks the heart of Edward DeCara in his bedroom at the home of his daughter in Hudson. DeCara is part of HWR’s “Navigator” program, which provides care for former hospice patients deemed stable and no longer declining. (Michael Chritton/Akron Beacon Journal)

Bill Finn wants to bring new life to the concept of hospice care in the region.

Too often, people associate the word “hospice” with care provided only in the final hours or days of life, said Finn, the chief executive of Hospice of the Western Reserve.

“We like to view our role as being more than ‘brink-of-death’ care,” he said. “We’re here to celebrate life with you, not sit here and wait for you to die.”

The Cleveland-based hospice program has set its sights on providing care to more Summit County residents who are diagnosed with a life-threatening or terminal illness.

During the past year, Hospice of the Western Reserve has been boosting its presence in the Akron area and attempting to educate more physicians and patients about its service.

The nonprofit group opened an office in Fairlawn about a year ago after already providing end-of-life care to patients in the area for years. The agency also is teaming up with Summit County partners for public health initiatives and providing free talks and other services as it continues to seek a foothold in the community.

“Our main goal is to focus on educating the community about our services,” said Ericha Fryfogle-Joy, director of marketing and professional relations for Hospice of the Western Reserve.

Hospice services are covered by Medicare and most private health insurance programs for patients who are estimated to have a life expectancy of six months or less. Hospice of the Western Reserve also provides supportive care known as palliative care for patients with life-threatening conditions that might not be in the final stages.

In addition, the agency provides support for grieving families and communities touched by a crisis through its Elisabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center. The program provided counseling assistance last year after the mass murders in Copley Township.

Other hospice services

Several other Akron-area businesses and hospital systems offer hospice services.

Akron General Health System’s Visiting Nurse Service and Affiliates offers home services and the inpatient Justin T. Rogers Care Center in Fairlawn.

Summa Health System and Akron Children’s Hospital also provide hospice and palliative care services. However, Hospice of the Western Reserve works closely with Children’s, whose palliative care director also serves as medical director for the agency’s pediatric hospice services.

Despite the existing programs, “we found Summit County was really fairly underserved as far as end-of-life care,” said Tracy Frazee, a registered nurse and clinical team leader for the Summit County office.

In 2009, 65 percent of Summit County residents enrolled in Medicare who died used hospice services, according to data from Health Planning and Development LLC, which analyzes public and private health databases for health-care clients.

In other counties served by Hospice of Western Reserve, the percentage is higher. In Lake County, for example, 88 percent of dying patients covered by Medicare received hospice services.

Frazee said many people misunderstand hospice services, which can improve quality of life and enable people to more fully enjoy their remaining days. Along with symptom management, hospice services include counseling, spiritual care and a variety of expressive therapies, such as art and music.

Studies have shown patients who receive hospice services live an average 30 days longer, Finn said.

“It’s about living their life,” Frazee said. “A lot of times, we can help them do more and achieve things before they die.”

Navigator program

Jean DeCara of Hudson turned to Hospice of the Western Reserve in the summer of 2011 to provide help for her 84-year-old husband, Edward, who has Alzheimer’s disease, congestive heart failure and prostate cancer. One of his physicians’ office staff recommended the agency.

“They were a lifesaver for me,” she said. “I didn’t know about this help.”

In fact, she said, her husband improved so much after receiving care that he no longer qualifies for hospice. But a nurse continues to check in on him weekly through the agency’s Navigator program.

The Navigator program was created to support patients who no longer qualify for hospice services but still need support. Patients aren’t charged for the services.

“I know he’s never going to be the same,” DeCara said. “But he’s a little better. I’m happier now and he’s happier.”

About the agency

Hospice of the Western Reserve started in Lake County in 1978. The agency, now headquartered in Cleveland, today provides services to more than 6,900 patients from Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Summit and surrounding counties.

Summit County still is a small segment of Hospice of Western Reserve’s total business in Northeast Ohio. Last year, the agency treated more than 100 Summit County residents.

About 20 of the agency’s 908 employees work out of the Fairlawn office. The Summit County office also has 40 volunteers, who complete at least 24 hours of training and undergo the same background checks as employees.

According to the Hospice of the Western Reserve’s most recent filings with the Internal Revenue Services, the agency’s revenues exceeded expenses by $4.9 million in 2010. Program service revenues that year totaled $87.3 million.

The overall business lost money in 2011, largely because of capital projects, including a new inpatient hospice facility under construction in Westlake, he said.

The core hospice business is profitable, which allows the agency to provide programs such as bereavement, pediatric hospice care and other services that often don’t break even, Finn said.

Cheryl Powell can be reached at 330-996-3902 or Follow Powell on Twitter at

Read the article on the Akron Beacon Journal Online and see pictures here.

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