BY MARIA MIRAKAJ BROWNSELL
With 20 plus years of service to the community, United Hospice of Rockland now has their first residence. February 15 marked the grand opening of the Joe Raso Hospice Residence, which sits on 11 acres of serene property including a pond, streams, woodlands, and wildlife.
The residence was named after Joe Raso and his wife, Tess McCormack Raso. The two chaired the capital campaign to have the house built and donated $2.5 million to the project. Although Joe passed away before the construction was complete, Tess continued the project, making sure it was everything they imagined.
About 15 years ago, the idea for a Hospice residence in Rockland County was born. It took about five years to fundraise enough to purchase the land and build the structure. The entire $6.5 million project is completely paid for, mortgage free. More than one million dollars was secured in federal funding.
“We expect 70 to 90 people our first year,” explained Lane Etkind, the director of development. “They must be medically appropriate for Hospice. The people need to be from Rockland. We’re looking for people with a shorter length of stay, approximately two weeks, to serve the largest number of people.”
Keeping patients in their own community was the key idea here. When a loved one is on the verge of passing away, having them accessible to visit is important. Sometimes staying in their homes just isn’t feasible. The Joe Raso Hospice Residence was designed to feel as much like being at home as possible. There are many lights and windows that are low enough to see out from bed to take advantage of the surrounding nature. Everything was designed with patient and family in mind.
Visiting is allowed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Both children and pets are allowed. There’s a shower for family members to use. The 10 bedrooms are single occupant, with large flat screen televisions, pullout sofas and so much more. The rooms do not have numbers, or flashing emergency lights, or sirens. Each room is named after different type of tree, and the nurses will have beepers that will go off on their waist to notify when a patient is calling.
There is a special spa tub where the person sits in a special chair that is rolled into the jetted tub. The tub fills up from the bottom to ease them into it instead of dunking them in which can be frightening. This type of spa helps to ease terminal agitation which occurs in many terminal people. The floors are radiantly heated, and there will be a massage table. Spa therapy will be one of the therapies available in addition to music therapy and art therapy.
The kitchen is full of stainless steel, restaurant quality equipment on one side of the room. The other side has tables and chairs for those wishing to enjoy meals outside their rooms, or for special occasions. Unidine has been contracted for 12 hour shifts at the residence, where they will prepare food with the freshest ingredients, including whatever it is that the patient requests at any time. There is a kosher area and a public pantry with snacks available any time of the day.
There is an outdoor courtyard that will be furnished with patio equipment as the weather warms up for all to enjoy. Bricks were sold in the names of different people as part of the fundraising efforts.
“This is very important for Clarkstown,” said Clarkstown Town Supervisor Alex Gromack. “The neighbors came around to agree after originally being concerned about it being in a residential area. It is a perfectly tranquil setting. I’m happy how it turned out.”
The grand opening was bustling with people who were involved in different ways. There were board members, designers, builders, donors and more.
“This is my first time here since the ground breaking. It’s just fabulous. There are no dedications on the desks [to financial donors]. That was saved for the tree art in the lobby,” said board member, Dr. Edward Fisher.
After much time was spent exploring the one floor structure, and eating delicate appetizers prepared by Unidine chefs, it was time for all to gather in the front room. United Hospice of Rockland’s executive director, Amy Stern took the podium. She thanked all those involved and expressed her satisfaction with the completion of the project. Next to speak was Joe Lagana, a close friend of late Joe Raso and Tess McCormack Raso. He was a board member and chair of the Construction Committee throughout the project. Tess McCormack Raso spoke teary eyed to the group about her late husband and the way the residence turned out.
The Joe Raso Hospice Residence will accept patients beginning in early March.