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Protests shatter calm at hospice
Herald.com
BY CAROL MARBIN MILLER, CARA BUCKLEY AND CURTIS MORGAN
cmarbin@herald.com
Sat, Mar. 19, 2005

PINELLAS PARK - At Woodside Hospice, dying patients come intending to spend their last days in tranquility, resting in beds carefully positioned for views of lush landscaping and gaily painted bird feeders.

They're getting a circus instead.

The dispute over Terri Schiavo, only one of at least 60 people under care here in this suburb north of St. Petersburg, has drawn a growing throng of satellite trucks as well as protesters who were hoping to block a Florida judge's order to remove the brain-damaged woman's feeding tube. Most quietly sing hymns, but on Friday at least one trucked in a seven-foot tall cross, complete with heavily bleeding Jesus figure, and others hold signs reading, ''Death House'' or ``Killing House.''

''It's a macabre sort of circus,'' said one longtime hospice volunteer who did not want to be identified because of threatening e-mails and letters that have targeted hospice employees and board members.

NO PUBLIC COMMENT

Hospice executives have repeatedly refused public comment on Schiavo since her husband Michael first moved her here in 2000 after winning a court ruling to take her off life support.

For most of her stay, Schiavo's presence has not disrupted the daily routine. But this week's escalating political tug-of-war, protests, media and even the police stationed in and around the one-story brown brick building have everyone in the hospice on edge -- from staff to the dying patients and their families.

''People walk around. They sit at windows. They go to the dining rooms for meals. They have family members who come to visit them who are having to make their way through the nightmare outside,'' the volunteer said. ``How would you feel if your loved one was inside?''

Woodside Hospice is operated by the not-for-profit Hospice of the Florida Suncoast centers. According to a June 2000 story in the St. Petersburg Times, Suncoast has grown from a facility in a three-bedroom house in Seminole in 1977 to a string of multimillion-dollar facilities the paper called the largest not-for-profit community hospice chain in the country.

There is a main center in Largo and branches in St. Petersburg, Palm Harbor and Pinellas Park, where Schiavo is cared for in a building located across from a thrift shop and just down from an elementary school. On normally peaceful days, the school bell can be heard on the hospice grounds.

For many facing their last days, the 72-bed facility is an attractive and less expensive option to hospitals.

The Woodside Hospice was specially designed -- and redesigned in a $10 million renovation completed just six month ago -- to be as homey, comfortable and unhospital-like as possible.

Trees cast cool shadows across most of the park-like grounds. Inside, there is a spa with hand-painted murals. Comfortable chairs invite relatives and patients to relax and chat.

But the volunteer, as well as some who have visited Woodside or are familiar with the mission of hospices, fear the storm over Schiavo is overwhelming the calm.

Dr. Morton Getz, executive director and medical director of Douglas Gardens Hospice in Miami, is outraged at picketers camped outside Woodside, saying the activities almost certainly disturb the staff, residents and relatives.

''The families must be calling on a daily basis, questioning their chaplains, their rabbis or their priests,'' said Getz, whose mother died at another Suncoast hospice in October 2003. ``It is unconscionable that they should have to run that gantlet.''

RESIDENTS UPSET

Louie Adcock, a St. Petersburg lawyer who is a member of a committee that seeks charitable donations, said many people in Pinellas County are upset about the unrelenting protests.

Adcock called the many protesters ''heartless'' for suggesting families of hospice patients were allowing loved ones to be killed.

''These people should be minding their own business,'' he said. ``A lot of these people have come from out of state.''

The hospice volunteer said she hopes those outside will recognize that others inside are trying to deal with their own difficult fates.

''This is their home. In some cases it will be the last home they will ever have,'' she said. ``These people are terminally ill, and if we don't do it right, we don't have a second chance to make it right for them.''

Commentary:
Who do we blame? Bush because he panders? His party because they pander? Or the media because they pander? Common sense left our nations news rooms and Congress a long time ago. We wait for responsible government and journalism to return but fear it's only a memory.