The entrance to what was the San Diego Hospice. Scripps Health recently sold the property to Houston-based developer Camden USA Inc. April 20, 2017. Megan Wood, inewsource.
The entrance to what was the San Diego Hospice. Scripps Health recently sold the property to Houston-based developer Camden USA Inc. April 20, 2017. Megan Wood, inewsource.

The view is spectacular, overlooking all of Mission Valley from atop a ragged hillside that’s in spring bloom. This was once a place people came to die, now it will be home to an apartment complex.

[one_half][box type=”shadow this-matters”]The institution was a pioneer in hospice care and touched the lives of families throughout San Diego County.[/box]

The former San Diego Hospice campus on Third Avenue in Hillcrest has been sold for $20 million to a Houston developer, Camden, USA Inc. Camden has a large apartment complex in Chula Vista.

The sale marks the final chapter in the San Diego Hospice saga that began more than four years ago. The once venerable institution endured a two-year Medicare audit, bad press and hard questions about whether it had been enrolling people into hospice who weren’t really dying.

In 2013 San Diego Hospice filed for bankruptcy, and its assets were sold, including the hilltop campus, which housed an administration building and a 24-bed care facility. Scripps Health paid $16.55 million for the property and vowed to preserve it as an inpatient hospice.

“This unique facility and property are ideal for end-of-life care and will allow us the opportunity to serve our patients and the community for years to come,” Scripps CEO Chris Van Gorder said at the time.

“Scripps felt strongly that this facility needed to be preserved for the community,” he added.

Today, it released a more regretful statement: “Scripps acquired this property in 2014 with the intent of using it for inpatient hospice care. … But as the health care landscape has evolved, it became clear that neither inpatient hospice nor any other clinical use was a sustainable model at this location.”

The property was considered sacred ground by many in San Diego. Situated between two hospitals, it was an ideal place to care for the dying.

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Stephanie Bergsma (who retired from KPBS and sits on the inewsource board) said the loss of an inpatient hospice facility is sad. Her late husband and her mother both passed away at the care facility.

“The rooms are large, they were beautifully maintained, the staff was incredible and the doctors were realistic.  They knew about palliative pain care and they knew how to take care of people,” Bergsma said.

The late Joan Kroc, who inherited the McDonald’s fortune, had donated $18 million to buy the property in 1988. Bergsma knew Kroc well.

“I’m sure she would have been devastated (that the site will house an apartment complex),” Bergsma said. “She probably would have done everything she could to keep it alive.”

The announcement of the sale was made to Scripps hospice and palliative care employees on a conference call Wednesday morning.

Laurel Herbst, the founding medical director of the hospice more than 40 years ago, said it was devastating news for those who worked there, but “you have to look at the whole picture.”

Herbst said thousands of physicians and nurses trained at the facility and so its impact will never be lost.

There are dozens of memorials on the grounds dedicated to deceased loved ones. In its statement, Scripps said it will be taking them down and storing them.

“While this decision makes practical sense, we understand that this property holds a very special place in the hearts of many San Diegans, just as it does for us at Scripps,” the statement read.

People who have memorials at the site can call Scripps at (858) 678-6340.

Currently, there is a temporary fire station housed at the location, and the administration building acts as a home base for Scripps hospice and palliative care workers and fellows.

The closure is expected to take two years, according to a source on the conference call.

Camden did not reply to inewsource’s request for an interview.

Joanne Faryon is a freelance reporter and former inewsource and KPBS reporter.