Scottsdale grandmother Evelyn Feffer is helping to launch a revolution. Feffer is the primary benefactor of the Minnie and Armond Sherman Hospice Home on the Mayo Clinic’s Phoenix campus, the 14th Hospice of the Valley facility and the first built from the ground up.
In addition to providing comfort and care for people at the end of life, the $2.4 million home will serve as a laboratory for medical students, residents and physicians from Mayo and elsewhere, helping them to better understand and treat pain and grapple with other end-of-life issues.
“What they’re striving for at Hospice of the Valley is so humane and so in keeping with my personal values that it was a no-brainer,” said Feffer, 77. “I think my parents would feel the same way.”
The Sherman home is evidence of the growing partnership between the hospice and Mayo, a bricks-and-mortar recognition by the worldrenowned health care organization that even the greatest minds in medicine can’t cure everything. That people die.
That partnership also includes a full-time palliative care physician who will begin work at the hospital and the hospice this spring, and a joint fellowship program due to launch next year.
This burgeoning palliative care program joins a growing national movement to improve care for patients and their families as they negotiate life-threatening illnesses, including their physical, emotional and spiritual needs.
“We are very good at treating disease. But sometimes we forget about other aspects,” said Dr. Tom Fitch, head of Mayo’s palliative care program.
“It’s about helping people with an understanding of their illness, and helping them make decisions, within their own value systems, of how they want to be cared for.”
While hospice is intended to provide comfort care for the last six months of life, palliative care can begin much sooner and often involves patients who continue to receive treatment for serious illnesses.
In September, palliative medicine will become a board-certified subspecialty, putting it on par with oncology, cardiology, geriatrics and other internal medicine disciplines.
For physicians, hospice care is “a different gear to switch into,” said Dr. Gregory Mayer, executive medical director at the hospice. Most doctors have never been in a hospice, he said.
“Here, we can help them make that switch by showing what to focus on when managing a patient at the end of life,” Mayer said. “The only way to do that is by being involved with it.”
Feffer has been volunteering at the Eckstein Hospice Home in Scottsdale, singing to patients, cleaning ashtrays, making coffee, changing linens and whatever else needs doing.
“People think it’s a place you go to die. It’s not. It’s a place to live with dignity for your last few days or months,” she said. “These are individuals. They’re people who have a history, and they’re now going on their final journey.”
She credits her parents for instilling the Jewish tradition of “tzedakah,” or giving to those in need. It’s a gift that Feffer and her husband, Ralph, have passed along to their four children and 12 grandchildren, memorialized in the plaque at the entrance to the Sherman Hospice Home: “Caring, from generation to generation.”
The warm-hued, arts-and-crafts furnished home has 12 patient rooms, each with a patio looking out onto the desert near 56th Street and the CAP Canal.
At the opening reception Feb. 4, Hospice of the Valley director Susan Levine said the home was inspired by the organization’s founder, Dr. Albert Eckstein, who wanted rooms to be “open to the outdoors.”
Maricopa County, Levine said, has the nation’s highest utilization of hospice care. The nonprofit organization cares for about 2,000 patients a day, both at its inpatient facilities — including six in the East Valley — and in private homes.
“We’re proud of that. Because we all have a last chapter,” Levine said. “Our role is to provide the physical support so the family can just love each other.”
For information about Hospice of the Valley or the Minnie and Armond Sherman Home, call (602) 530-6900 or visit www.hov.org
For information about the Mayo Clinic’s palliative care program, visit www.mayoclinic.org/ palliative-care/