Los Angeles Archbishop Roger M. Mahony on Wednesday announced plans to open four hospice-style shelters for AIDS patients this year and as many as eight more in the next several years.
The Roman Catholic archdiocese will become the county's largest operator of AIDS residential health care facilities if the plans are realized. Mahony said the church, which has been criticized by gay leaders in the past for opposing the use of condoms as a way to prevent AIDS, is fully committed to establishing the shelters for people in the terminal stages of the disease.
"What we are offering is substantial," Mahony said. "I think it will be a prototype."
The shelter program is a joint venture of the archdiocese and six Catholic hospitals, which will provide medical care. The first two centers, located in Long Beach and Koreatown west of downtown Los Angeles, are expected to open by spring. The archdiocese is also scouting for shelter sites in West Hollywood.
Church officials plan to pay for the facilities, which will cost $1.1 million this year, with government grants and money raised privately. Even though other centers have met with neighborhood protests, Mahony said he is not overly concerned about the potential opposition.
"The greatest epidemic we have in the community is fear," the archbishop said. "It's far more serious than AIDS. But we are hoping people at the neighborhood level will not panic."
Gay leaders and county AIDS specialists welcomed Mahony's announcement. Michael Weinstein, president of the private AIDS Hospice Foundation, said there is a "tremendous demand" for more hospices. Rabbi Allen Freehling, who heads the county's AIDS Commission, expressed hope that other religious groups will follow the archdiocese's lead.
"This delivers a strong message to the community that others should go forward and do likewise," Freehling said. "Others may be motivated to establish hospices of their own."
John Schunhoff, a staff analyst in the county's AIDS Program Office, said there are now about 1,600 reported cases of people suffering from AIDS, and only seven hospices with about 50 beds among them in operation. About 2,600 county residents have died from effects of the disease.
Hospice owners have had a hard time obtaining licenses in the past, but officials say a new state law that will better define the role of the hospices, which provide home care for terminal AIDS patients, will allow for easier licensing.
The archdiocese has been studying the hospice issue since February, 1986, when Mahony first pledged to establish the shelters while celebrating a Mass for AIDS patients, their families and other members of the gay community. Some gays had recently accused the archdiocese of foot dragging, but Mahony said the planning process was tougher than he expected.
Under the new program, which was outlined by Mahony at a press conference, each residential shelter will house eight to 12 people. Admission to the facilities will be open to all ages, races and religions, and the shelters will be staffed by religious and lay people.
The archdiocese will recruit and train its shelter "homemakers." Medical care will be provided by Daniel Freeman Hospital in Inglewood, Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance, St. John's Hospital and Health Center in Santa Monica, St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank, St. Mary Medical Center in Long Beach and St. Vincent Medical Center in Los Angeles.
Sister Jane Frances Power, director of the Archdiocesan Office for Health Affairs, said there is already a waiting list for the Long Beach shelter.