Florida Keys

Hospice is shutting down in Key West, and there’s a problem with the alternative

The hospice center in Key West is at 1319 William St.
The hospice center in Key West is at 1319 William St. Keynoter

The VNA and Hospice of the Florida Keys, which has provided end-of-life services since 1984 and is based in Key West, will shutter its doors Feb. 28 due to continued financial stress only worsened by Hurricane Irma’s fallout, its operators said.

The shutdown leaves no hospice care in the Lower Keys and will eliminate 10 full-time and 12 part-time jobs. The only other hospice provider in the Keys is VITAS Hospice in Tavernier, a two-hour, 91-mile drive away.

Twenty patients are currently in care through VNA and Hospice, which served all of the Florida Keys, and 11 patients receive home health care.

Hospice is a form of palliative care where patients with life-limiting illness are treated for their symptoms but they are not under a treatment meant to cure them.

“It’s very sad for the community,” said Kim Wilkerson, administrator of Island Home Care, based in Key West. “It’s going to leave a huge void.”

Wilkerson said her agency could take on the VNA’s home health care patients but hospice care requires a different type of state license.

“I’ve been waiting for them to reach out,” Wilkerson said.

“Our top priorities over these next few weeks are the well-being of our patients and families with whom we are working to transition their care to other qualified programs, and our dedicated associates to whom we are offering job opportunities at Haven located in North Florida,” according to a statement released Monday by the nonprofit Haven, which did all the speaking for VNA and Hospice.

Haven and the hospice center formed an affiliation in 2015 “in order to bring the administrative, functional, compliance and financial resources, expertise and support of Haven to benefit VNA/HFK which was not financially sustainable as a stand-alone organization at that time,” Haven said.

Donations that have not yet been spent to serve VNA and Hospice patients and families will be returned in the future “to the extent funds are available after assets are liquidated and outstanding obligations are settled,” the statement read.

“We are grateful for the opportunity to have served Monroe County residents and visitors with hospice and home health services and thank the members of the community for their support,” Haven said.

The words were of little comfort to those with aging, ill family members and their supporters.

“It’s hard to believe a community of this size can be without a hospice, I can’t imagine it,” said Casey Rafferty, who for five years has led a support group for caregivers of dementia patients, held at the VNA at 1319 William St., and formerly worked at a hospice in Sarasota. “Many people who are in the end of life, their preference is to die at home. They want to be in their own bed.”

Hospice staff is known for providing complete care for a family, including support during what can be a painful time, said Rafferty, who divides her time between Key West and Connecticut.

Hospice of the Florida Keys has always done a great deal of fundraising. It’s known for its annual Fourth of July fundraiser at the Casa Marina Resort.

Last year, the Monroe County Human Services Advisory Board granted $190,000 to the agency (it asked for $280,000) and in 2016 the grant was $141,000.

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen