FARGO — Sanford Health has established what it calls North Dakota's first hospital-based hospice program at its downtown medical center.

The hospice unit, which occupies the former palliative care unit, has 10 patient rooms, a family dining room, family visitation room and shower and bathroom facilities for visiting family members.

"It's kind of a hospice house within a hospital," said Dr. Douglas Griffin, Sanford's chief medical officer.

Although located within a hospital, the unit offers some homey touches, including kitchen space with a refrigerator, sink, counter and microwave oven.

"The goal of hospice house is to make it as home-like as possible," said Kim Wolf, Sanford's director of oncology, palliative care and hospice.

Sanford also provides home hospice care within a 30-mile radius of Fargo-Moorhead.

"It piggybacks very nicely on our home health program," he said, adding that in-home hospice care can provide two of the four levels of hospice care.

Patients receiving hospice care at home who require more intensive care can move into the hospice home in the hospital, he said.

"We can give more aggressive pain management, more aggressive relief of other symptoms they might have," Griffin said.

The goal of establishing a hospice program was announced last year when Sanford outlined plans for a significant expansion of the Roger Maris Cancer Center.

Providing hospice care is part of Sanford's goal of delivering a full spectrum of health services for patients, Griffin said.

Hospice care is underutilized, especially in the Midwest. Besides cancer patients, those who receive end-of-life care include those with congestive heart failure, chronic kidney disease and many other diseases, he said. "It crosses a wide breadth of patients."

The range of services for hospice patients includes social work, spiritual care, bereavement, nursing care and homemaking services. Sanford already had board-certified palliative care physicians and trained nurses, Griffin said.