Originally published in the Fort Myers News-Press

Hope Hospice of Southwest Florida is coming to Lehigh Acres.

Samira Beckwith, Hope’s president and chief executive officer, said that a Hospice House featuring 24 beds will be built on 5-acres donated by Lehigh’s Community Health Association.

The Hospice House will be built at 11 Beth Stacey Blvd., behind Lehigh Community Services.

“We’re very fortunate because of the donation of the land,” said Beckwith, adding that Hope had wanted a Lehigh facility similar to Bonita Springs’ Joanne’s House for some time. “All of our Hospice homes are running at a high occupancy level. We wanted to go east and we think Lehigh will provide better access to people in Hendry and Glades counties.”

Beckwith said details about the facility are still uncertain.

“We’re just starting the zoning process and that’ll play the biggest role in when we can start construction,” she said. “It could take a year. We want to break ground as soon as the zoning is complete.”

Preliminary plans for the building call for an Old Florida architectural design, office space, all the amenities patients need and a series of grief programs, Beckwith said.

A staff of about 70 is expected, she added.

Once construction is complete, Lehigh’s Hope House will be the fourth in Lee County. The others are in Bonita Springs, Cape Coral and at HealthPark in south Fort Myers

Fundraising for the construction is expected to begin this fall. “We’re going to start our capital campaign later this year, Beckwith said. “We’re going to need to raise between $3-$5 million.”

Hope’s plan for a Lehigh house has been in the works for more than a year, explained Hugh Vanhoose, the executive director of the Community Health Association (CHA) — the private foundation that donated the land to Hope.

CHA formed in 1964 as Lehigh Acres General Hospital and when the hospital was sold in the mid-1980s, CHA lost its status as a charity and became a private foundation.

“We took the money from the sale of the hospital and a nursing home and started giving it away,” said Vanhoose, explaining that the foundation is required to give away 5 percent of its assets each year.

Eventually, the money raised through CHA went toward building the Lehigh Literacy Council, Lehigh Community Services, Childcare of Southwest Florida and the Lee County School District’s School Choice office at 11 Beth Stacey Blvd.

“Our mission is health-oriented,” Vanhoose said. “One of the things we wanted to do was bring a Hospice facility to Lehigh Acres.”

Vanhoose said donation of the 5-acres to Hope Hospice is the equivalent to $1.5 million, which will satisfy its asset distribution requirement for the next several years.

“A Hospice facility is something that’s needed out here,” he said. “We’re trying to remain true to that same vision we had back in 1964.”

Oliver Conover, the executive director of the Lehigh Acres Chamber of Commerce said the arrival of a Hope Hospice Home in Lehigh is another example of groups paying attention to a need.

“If someone has to go to Hospice now, they have to drive 20 miles over to HealthPark,” he said. “Having one in Lehigh makes it much more convenient for families here and places like LaBelle.”