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Hospice residence to open in Hingham

Renovations are nearly complete at the first hospice home on the South Shore, at the former New England Friends Home.

Jessica Bartlett for The Boston Globe

Renovations are nearly complete at the first hospice home on the South Shore, at the former New England Friends Home.

On a quiet Hingham street stands a red brick house, impressive in size and appearance. To the side of the house is a stone archway at the end of a garden, built with the original 1930s foundation, with a large beech tree shading the area. A wide-open, grassy space leads around the back of the house that sits on a hill, where Boston can be seen in the distance over the treetops.

This is the view awaiting patients and families of the first hospice residence between Needham and Cape Cod, which is expected to begin accepting patients sometime this month.

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The Norwell Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice will open the doors to its facility on Turkey Hill Lane after obtaining the building’s occupancy permit, which will be issued by the town of Hingham after final inspection.

A spa room for hospice patients

Jessica Bartlett for the Boston Globe

A spa room for hospice patients.

The Norwell-based group bought the former New England Friends Home for $1.625 million in April 2012 and spent more than $3 million renovating it.

According to Meg Doherty, chief executive officer of NVNA and Hospice, the organization has been talking about establishing a residence for communities south of Boston for at least 10 years.

“There was a glaring hole down there,” said Doherty. “Prior to this happening, we would have to send patients to Needham or Reading or down to the Cape. You disrupt a whole family and it becomes a problem.”

Brenda Karkos, director of South Shore Hospital’s Hospice of the South Shore program, said there was a big need for a hospice residence in the area, but only for the small percentage of patients who choose a hospice residence for end-of-life care.

“It’s a nice avenue for patients who can’t manage at home,’’ she said. “Most patients in the last couple years had to go to nursing centers.”

Karkos said about 90 percent or more of patients who are terminally ill want to stay home, where medical professionals assist patients and their families. Others go into nursing centers, which are often large facilities with a lot of beds. While all end-of-life facilities try to do their best, she said, there is more specialized care in residences that have fewer patients to focus on, such as the residence in Hingham.

But some medical specialists say they believe that more patients would use hospices and at-home care services if the patients and their families had more information on their options earlier in their prognoses.

Katy Butler, author of “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” said research shows most patients would prefer to die at home, but have no choice but to die in a hospital.

In her book, Butler writes about her experience helping her parents choose care in their final days. Her mother, Valerie Butler, decided that instead of opting for procedures and medicine that could extend her life but also run the risk of incapacitating her, she accepted her terminal illness and chose hospice care.

A view from the inside of the home looking out at the original 1930s stone architecture in the garden.

Jessica Bartlett for the Boston Globe

A view from the inside of the home looking out at the original 1930s stone architecture in the garden.

Butler, a resident of Mill Valley, Calif., said that based on positive experiences with hospice and palliative care, which can refer to care for anyone with a serious illness at any stage of aggressiveness, people can become more educated about end-of-life options. Instead of having the discussion about care during a patient’s final days, people could benefit from hospice services for as much as a year, she said.

“It’s a new moral dilemma that previous generations haven’t faced,” Butler said. “We need to improve the experience of institutional death and make it easier to die at home. When death comes along, you’re treating family, not just the patient. The entire family is the patient.”

Dr. Angelo Volandes, an internal medicine physician at Massachusetts General Hospital, conducts research into advance care planning — the process in which patients and providers discuss future health decisions. He said it is the responsibility of the physician to bring up the conversation with a patient about end-of-life care.

“Most patients are still dying in hospitals and nursing homes against their wishes,’’ he said. “It’s one of the biggest problems in medicine right now.”

In order to make it easier for patients to die at home or in a hospice facility, Volandes said, “we need to radically rethink about how institutions are approaching the conversation about medical care at the end stages of life.”

The home on Turkey Hill Lane is the result of years of work aimed at fulfilling patients’ wishes to die comfortably. At one point, the group appeared set to build on a property in Norwell, but the plan was dropped when building and construction surveyors determined that converting the property would be too expensive.

The NVNA, in partnership with Norwell-based nonprofit Campus of Caring, has raised $2.4 million to date out of a goal of $3.6 million, said Campus of Caring board member Colleen Cimini.

Doherty said the two groups will continue fund-raising to offset the costs of running the nonprofit home, which also is seeking a donor to buy the naming rights to the facility for $1.5 million.

The Hingham residence has 15 beds available and will initially accept 10 to 12 patients. Residents and families in or associated with the South Shore will get first preference in admissions. When those first beds fill, NVNA and Hospice will identify patients with the most need by considering social as well as physical needs, Doherty said.

“Lots of people, for whatever reason, cannot remain in their own homes. . . . ,” she said. “In this day and age, we’re asking people to be nurses and health care workers. Not everyone is fit for that.”

Doherty said patients may be referred to Hingham by other hospice programs and hospitals as long as the patient is eligible for hospice care under private health insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid.

Patients will be cared for and assisted by licensed nurses, home health aides, and certified nursing assistants while a residence manager will maintain the facility.

Volunteers who work with NVNA and Hospice will be able to attend training programs, orientations, and rotations at the residence.

“It’s a new learning experience,” Doherty said. “Not only does it have beautiful surroundings, but we want to provide the best care possible at this time of life for patients and families.”

Nicole Leonard can be reached at nicole.leonard@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @NicALeonard.
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