VITAS Healthcare, a hospice pioneer, was established in South Florida in 1978, and according to Mary Zalaznik, has since become the leader in providing compassionate end-of-life care. VITAS’ most recent action is evidence of its effort to strengthen that effort.
In June, VITAS opened its first hospice inpatient unit (IPU) that was built from the ground up, and is its second facility in Palm Beach County. Zalaznik, Senior Vice President of Hospice Operations for VITAS, said it was "designed so that local patients who have complex system and management needs, and who require highly skilled care around the clock, can have greater access to our robust inpatient services, which are provided in a home-like environment."
The IPU has eight private rooms in a modern, comfortable setting. Zalaznik, who has been with VITAS for nearly 33 years, said the facility includes a spacious family room, a well-equipped kitchen, and a meditation room. The 2.2 acres are beautifully landscaped and contain more than 1700 native Florida plants, offering a park-like environment overlooking a tranquility pond. The building houses multiple amenities for patients’ families, such as cable TV and Internet access. Additionally, each of the private rooms has a screened-in lanai that accommodates rolling the patient’s bed onto the lanai. "It gives them great views in a tranquil setting."
Also offered at the IPU are numerous therapies, such as music, pet, and massage therapy. "Our goal is to ensure we can offer as many helpful therapies to our patients and families to enhance their quality of life," she said.
Zalaznik acknowledged that hospice services can be most beneficial during the earlier stages of a patient’s terminal diagnosis, instead of during a person’s last days. "Although everyone’s situation is different, many people struggle to care for loved ones who are terminally ill. Hospice provides patients with specialized quality care and compassion, and helps them to have enhanced quality of life during those most difficult times."
Zalaznik explained that the IPU accepts 24-hour direct admissions. "We accept patients around the clock because doctors could refer them from any setting at any time. The IPU is available to any hospice patient who elects to use our service, and is identified as appropriate (for the IPU), at any given time."
One reason the new facility was built from the ground up – meaning that VITAS bought the land and designed it, as well as built it – was that some hospitals and long-term care facilities no longer have sufficient space available for inpatient units. "Our experience over the past several years has been that hospitals in South Florida are enjoying greater occupancy now that more patients have insurance coverage, and they are taking a different approach with many of their specialties as well. In this particular case in Palm Beach County, there really were no other options for us to serve this area of the county, so we decided to design and build this new IPU with the goal of meeting the need for high-quality hospice care in this area."
Zalaznik said that along with end-of-life care, the new VITAS facility will serve as a community life center, which will be opened up to professional groups to provide education, and also to groups that are serving that particular community. For example, it could be used by bereavement groups, patient caregiver support groups, or for educating caregivers on how to manage their own health. "The reality is that a lot of people in the community, if they are not now a caregiver, will very likely eventually be one. So caregiver self-care is very important, because otherwise they may find themselves over-committing and burning out, and then their own health is at risk. Many areas of the community are anxious to access our center."