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ELYSIAN PARK : AIDS Hospice Marks 5-Year Anniversary

January 30, 1994|IRIS YOKOI

A couple hundred community leaders and health care workers gathered recently to celebrate a dubious distinction: the fifth anniversary of the Chris Brownlie AIDS Hospice.

"The hospice has been successful, I'm sorry to say. Working with the HIV-AIDS issue, it's almost with a tone of regret that we say that," said Keith Malone, spokesman for the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which runs the Elysian Park hospice.

But from its beginnings as the county's first licensed residential hospice, the facility at 1300 Scott Ave. has focused on celebrating life rather than grieving over death.

Nestled in a peaceful, shaded hillside near Barlow Respiratory Hospital, the 25-bed facility opened in December, 1988, to provide a pleasant last home for people dying of AIDS. The hospice provides 24-hour care as well as counseling for patients and survivors.

The nonprofit AIDS Healthcare Foundation, which is funded by state and federal AIDS funds as well as private donations, accepts private and public insurance for the hospice care, which often costs several hundred dollars a day. No patient is turned away for lack of money.

The foundation also operates the Carl Bean AIDS Care Center in the West Adams district and clinics in Downtown, Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Brownlie residents have a life expectancy of six months or less. They are allowed to furnish and decorate their individual rooms as they wish. The facility also has a cozy common area with hardwood floors, comfortable couches, a piano and a television. The garden areas overlook the natural beauty of the canyons and provide a view of the Downtown skyline as well.

"We celebrate everything here, whether a person is so ill he can only sit up," said Mary Nalick, interim director. "It's about appreciating the little things and celebrating each day."

Every two weeks, the staff and residents hold a memorial in honor of the residents who have died in recent days, releasing a balloon for each death. At the recent anniversary celebration, each attendee was handed a balloon to release in memory of the 787 people that have passed through the hospice in its five years.

"Just as we must let go of these balloons so they can soar . . . so we at Chris Brownlie have had to let go of our friends," the Rev. Matthew Sprouffske, the hospice chaplain, told the audience.

During the emotional ceremony, speakers also praised the loving care provided by the 50 staff members, from the groundskeepers who tend the gardens to the nurses who "turn the residents, bathe them, change their diapers, sit with them," according to foundation President Michael Weinstein.

Nurse Lindsay Ralphs explained how the staff keeps its positive attitude and energy: "Every resident we've worked with has had heart, and we get their heart and their courage."

Resident Robert Uhrich credits the hospice with saving his life. When the 50-year-old travel agent came to the hospice seven months ago, his motor skills had deteriorated and doctors gave him three days to live. Since then, his T-cell blood count has increased and his improved health has baffled doctors. "Something has gone right here," he said.

Uhrich has become the outspoken resident nagger. It was he who pointed out the lack of rubber skids in the bathtubs to keep weak residents from slipping. And he enjoys serving as a vocal spokesman for the residents because "I've never been a comforting type of person."

He's also considering writing a book for families and friends of AIDS patients on the do's and dont's of dealing with their sick loved ones. Uhrich said he has been lucky to have a supportive family but he has seen too many make the wrong decisions: "One mother actually shaved her (ill) son's beard . . . and stole his identity. He died a week later."

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