Inland Regional Hospice in Corona wants to make hospice care a longer process, with more counseling and a stronger role for family members. A woman whose father spent his final days with Inland Regional believes there’s merit to that approach.

Donna Zuppan remembers the exact moment she knew her father, Ronald Darbyshire, would have to enter a hospice.

Zuppan, a Yucaipa resident, was spending as much time as she could at her father’s house about one mile away, where he lived by himself.

“He didn’t like going to doctors,” Zuppan said of her father, a native of England who had just turned 96 when he passed away last Nov. 1. “He was still pretty sharp mentally, but he was deteriorating physically. I was doing as much as I could for him, but it was a real strain.”

One morning last September, on one of her regular morning visits, Zuppan found her father sitting in his recliner, alert but bruised and bleeding from multiple cuts.

“He’d fallen near the kitchen, and I could tell he spent most of the night on floor,” said Zuppan a retired nurse. “Somehow he got up and got to the recliner, probably not long before I got there.

“Right then I knew I would have to do something. I wouldn’t be able to care for him anymore.”

Zuppan immediately got her father into an assisted living facility in Calimesa, and suggested that her father be placed in hospice care.

“They wanted to wait, because some people improve when they go into hospice and then they get discharged,” Zuppan said. “But after a couple of days it was obvious he wasn’t going to get better, and that he needed hospice care.”

Zuppan immediately ran into difficulty, in part because of her father’s longtime aversion to visiting physicians.

“There was no doctor’s diagnosis that said he was about to die, which is something that most hospices require because it is end-of-life treatment,” Zuppan said. “So I had to keep looking.”

After three or four rejections, Zuppan found Inland Regional Hospice in Corona, which approaches hospice care differently than most hospices: its founder and owner, Florin Rominu, believes hospice care should be more than a one or two-week event at the very end of life, which is the case with most hospice stays.

After diagnosing Darbyshire, and making some arrangements with the staff at the Calimesa facility, Inland Regional began providing hospice care for Darbyshire there.

“We’re a satellite operation,” Rominu said. “We have two assisted-care facilities of our own [both in Riverside], along with the hospice, and we can provide hospice care just about anywhere.”

Darbyshire, who moved to the United States in 1949, spent one month in the care of Inland Regional before he passed. It was a short stay, but a memorable one.

“Ronald was a very impressive person,” Rominu recalled. “He was very proud of his background, being from England, and he enjoyed talking about it, even though by the time we started treating him he was in a little bit of pain.”

Darbyshire, who was very athletic most of his life, was serious about never wanting to visit doctors, regardless of his condition.

“That’s absolutely true,” Rominu said. “One time, one of our doctors had to go out and see him in the car, because he wouldn’t come inside.”

Rominu, who is not a doctor, originally worked in the printing business. He opened his assisted care facilities and hospice after struggling to care for a family member at home and realized there was a need for a different approach to hospice care.

The average hospice stay in the United States is roughly two weeks, but Rominu believes the process should be longer, with the patient’s family receiving more counseling and playing major role in deciding what treatment should be administered.

In short, Rominu believes hospices should be doing more to assist the survivors, and Zuppan’s ordeal with her father is a good example of what he’s talking about.

“The situation was so difficult that she had no idea what to do,” Rominu said. “Losing a loved one is never easy, but if a hospice had been there for her earlier, I think the experience would have been a little easier for her to cope with.”

Zuppan, who worked at Loma Linda University Medical Center, said she immediately felt comfortable with Rominu, calling him more “family driven” than other hospice officials she dealt with.

“Florin’s people were off the charts,” Zuppan said, “If Dad was in pain, they immediately made adjustments to help him out. Whatever it was, they would take care of it right away. I used to get phone calls from the nurses all the time, which was good because it made me feel like I was part of the treatment.”

Sometimes, the treatment took on a personal touch.

“Dad was very musical, and sometimes one of the staff would come in and play guitar for him,” Zuppan said. “He loved that.”

Rominu is trying to persuade others in the hospice industry that the business needs to make major changes in how it does business, particularly making hospice care more about the patient’s family, He knows it will not be an easy task.

“People think one or two weeks when they hear ‘hospice,’ and that’s a misconception,” Rominu said. “We have to change people’s minds, and that’s going to take time.”