Originally created 04/01/04

Hospice is getting new home



A suburban Atlanta company that is building the area's first stand-alone hospice says it is filling a void in the otherwise robust medical community - care for the terminally ill.

Portsbridge Hospice of Fayetteville, Ga., has started construction on what will be its fifth free-standing hospice in the state. Whereas other hospice companies in town send staff out to work in nursing homes and hospitals, this split-level structure behind Doctors Hospital - with which it is not affiliated - will offer 12 beds and a final home to patients in their dying days.

"This area is very underutilized," said Cynthia Sneed, community educator for Portsbridge, which has been leasing an office on Augusta West Parkway since Thanksgiving. With the expansion to the new location, the hospice plans to beef up its staff from nine to 18.

"I think there are something like 150 people getting hospice care around the area," she said. "In a smaller city like Macon there are 400. We're in need here."

Other hospice services are offered by St. Joseph Hospital, Southern Care in Aiken and United Hospice and Home Care Inc., which is across the street from Portsbridge's current office.

Construction will cost about $1.5 million and should be complete by the end of the year, said Mike Mahone, part owner of Atlanta-based TMM Investments, which buys and develops real estate for the medical community.

Earlier this year, Mr. Mahone's company bought the land on Interstate Parkway, which is nestled between Doctors Hospital and Perimeter Parkway, from a group of local investors.

TMM Investments built Portsbridge's four other stand-alone hospices in Conyers, Dunwoody, Macon and Riverdale.

Mr. Mahone said that in the beginning he leases the space to the hospice and in time sells the building to it.

His company also is constructing another Portsbridge hospice in Columbia.

The 11-year-old hospice is licensed to operate in Georgia and South Carolina and looks after about 450 people, most of whom are cancer patients.

"We work to educate doctors in the community. By our account, less than 10 percent of people eligible for hospice care in the U.S. ever get it," Ms. Sneed said. "People with heart disease, pulmonary disorders, Alzheimer's all qualify, and many don't know it."

An average stay in a Portsbridge facility is 45 days, during which the hospice services include pain control, counseling and visits by a chaplain.

The cost comes to roughly $500 a day and is generally paid for by Medicare or Medicaid.

Ms. Sneed hopes she can work with other area hospices that might want an in-patient facility for some of their patients.

That sort of friendly competition and cooperation might just work, said Angie Whitesell, community relations representative for United Hospice.

"First we'll have to look at it from a business contract standpoint," Ms. Whitesell said.

"But I think it is a good idea (the stand-alone hospice), even if it is coming from a competitor," she said.

Reach Matthew Mogul at (706) 823-3352 or matthew.mogul@augustachronicle.com.