Before arriving, one may not think of a hospice as serene or precious. Yet after weaving through a residential area, arrival at the new Serenity House might induce a different idea of what a hospice can truly be.
The new Serenity House sits atop a hill providing some of the most beautiful views of Santa Barbara’s lush and hilly landscape. With a kitchen that will serve “anything you want,” comfort is a priority. It hosted a grand opening event the afternoon of June 18, but the new facility, which was built to accommodate 18 patients at a time, each with their own bedroom, is yet to receive patients.
After years of raising funds, planning, and construction, the new Serenity House has not seen the last of its progress. Still in the works are plans to expand the amount of patients allowed to stay at one time. Unless Senate Bill 177 passes, the house will only be able to fill 12 of its 18 rooms at opening.
Senator Tony Strickland and Assemblymember Das Williams wrote SB 177 with hopes of expanding the number of beds available to patients from 12 to 25. At the moment, Santa Barbara County does not qualify for the ceiling of 25 beds because its population is just below half a million, the cut-off for eligibility.
On Tuesday, June 21, representatives of Visiting Nurse & Hospice Care (VNHC) spoke before the state Health Committee, before meeting the full Assembly, and finally the governor. So far, the bill has received unanimous support, which is expected to continue.
After a startling 71 percent increase in patients requiring care in both 2008 and 2009 — with more on a waiting list — VNHC acknowledged that their facility could no longer support the rising demand for care. With this in mind, they strove fast and hard to accumulate funding for the new, larger Serenity House facility.
Millions of dollars have been collected from members of the community since 2005 to construct the facility with the people it would serve in mind. The new building is 27,300 square feet and includes private rooms with views as well as communal rooms. Guest privacy is valued and upheld through security and wireless systems.
About 30 staff members, including doctors, nurses, counselors, and other specialists work with a trained team of volunteers to accomplish a united vision of comfortable hospice care. The atmosphere is entirely pleasant; even luxurious. Perhaps nobody explained the Serenity House better than Tamara Skov, foundation executive director: “It’s about celebration.”