Laguna Honda Hospital volunteer
Tina Kingon with Hank Donat.
Say hello to tomorrow's Laguna Honda Hospital
local knows that Laguna Honda is the hillside hospital that
provides long-term residential care to the city's frail, elderly, and
disabled citizens. However, most San Franciscans will never see the
inside of it. That would seem like a good thing, but a better thing
is a visit to the 137 year-old institution that represents San Francisco
as much as Willie Mays and Willie Brown combined.
Coming in from the cold on a foggy afternoon at the facility at Laguna
Honda Blvd. and Woodside Avenue, I am quickly struck by the many signs
of the hospital's robust activity therapies. Patients' artwork covers
the walls - it's quite good, actually - along with photo collages celebrating
everything from the hospital's fashion show to its Spanish Language
Club. A few patients, all in wheel chairs, are returning from a bus
trip. A volunteer trundles by, pushing a cart loaded only with a pair
of parakeets on a perch. They are part of the animal visiting program.
Common areas between the out-dated Florence Nightingale-style wards
are decorated with street signs and photos from the city's neighborhoods.
They are reminders that patients here remain a part of the San Francisco
community until they can return to the city outside. Hospital nomenclature
dictates that patients here are "residents." The average stay is 404
Modern buildings and other facilities are currently under construction.
They will replace the early 1920s structures at a cost of up to $800
million in public and private financing implemented in phases
over the next several years. A $299 million bond initiative was approved
by 73 percent of San Francisco voters in 1999. The new Laguna Honda
Foundation is also raising funds. (For more information, visit lagunahondafoundation.org)
Volunteer Tina Kingon has maintained the hospital's clothing room for
the past 17 years. "I'm a one woman show," says Tina, a onetime war
bride from Rome who attributes her ability to volunteer fulltime to
one thing - a good pension.
Tina sorts and labels donated clothing and arranges for cleaning and
mending as needed. Her operation appears to flourish, but Tina says
her racks are wanting. "There's not too much we get that's new," she
says, "Everyone needs something brand new to wear once in a while."
Tina also organizes bingo prizes, which are as modest as you can get.
Residents play for bedroom slippers, cards and games, donated t-shirts,
sundries, and coupons redeemable at the hospital's gift shop. Anyone
with abundance in their life will be inclined to forgo holding the next
garage sale to unload Pottery Barn cast-offs and museum shop impulse
items. I want to pull up to the hospital with a truck full of these things
and say, "Here, play bingo for the next six months with my blessing."
Elsa Kim and Constance Martin volunteer at the gift shop. The store
looks like a Merrill's, perfectly preserved somewhere around 1979, with
its metal and glass fixtures festooned in a mix of greeting cards, candy,
health and beauty aids, clothing and small gift items.
There's quite a rush here following the bingo game. Shelves of nuts
and candy are the busiest. Like all hospital volunteers, Elsa and Constance
are on the look out for ribbons that identify patients with diabetes
or other dietary restrictions.
Larry Funk is Laguna Honda's executive administrator. "Historically,
the perception about Laguna Honda has been that it's a large, high-quality
facility for end-of-life care," Funk says, "but over the past 15 to
20 years Laguna Honda has changed remarkably."
As examples of today's Laguna Honda, Funk sites a continuum of care
including the hospital's AIDS/HIV ward, expanded and enhanced rehabilitation
services, a new Alzheimer's day program, and other programs that keep
people healthy and in the community.
"I think the most exciting things we have going are the replacement
facilities and the dedication of our 1,400 staff and 800 active volunteers,"
"Moving from the open wards to private and semi-private accommodations
with each bed having its own view and with each household of 15 beds
having its own living room, dining room, activity area, and a deck is
going to be like night and day for the residents.
"The mojo that drove the new design was 'What are the best practices
nationally and internationally for long-term and chronic care?' That's
sunlight, nature, openness, access to outdoors, operable windows, easy
access to staff, and good food, on top of the best medical care."
Funk says that in addition to continued increase in demand for elderly
care, Laguna Honda has seen a huge spike in a younger demographic. "We've
seen a significant trend in San Francisco in the past ten years," he
says, "The number of residents at Laguna Honda who are age 65 and under
has virtually tripled. Issues such as trauma accidents like motorcycle
accidents, and violence in the community contribute to this. It's also
a manifestation of poly-substance abuse, where some of the people need
long-term care at a premature age because of multiple lifestyle issues."
Laguna Honda provides a third of the 3,000 skilled nursing beds in San
Francisco. The cost of acquisition of land, construction, and operation
keeps the private sector out of the market, with the exception of high-end
providers. The new facilities, scheduled for completion in 2011, will
make Laguna Honda a peerless provider of clinical and therapeutic programs
in the country. That sounds like the City that knows how!
"Laguna Honda is an experience you can only fully appreciate by coming
in and taking a tour and talking with some of the patients and staff,"
Funk says, "If someone comes and spends an hour, their perception of
Laguna Honda will change and they will receive one of the richest rewards
of their life by seeing how each individual in the community can light
up the life of another."
Any San Franciscan who wishes to take a tour, call a bingo game, serve
coffee, wrap birthday gifts, chaperone a field trip, sing to someone,
play an instrument, or sit and listen may call Laguna Honda Hospital
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