Alice Rochester was diagnosed with incurable cancer and completed her treatments and tests, but didn’t have the financial means for further care.
Alice, though, found just the place for people in her situation.
That place is the Sacred Heart Home, at 1315 W. Hunting Park Ave., a skilled-nursing facility operated by the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne.
The Home does not accept Medicare, Medicaid or any government aid, nor does it take private insurance or pay. It operates thanks to the small and large donations of individual and group benefactors.
Alice and the other guests stay for free, to live out their lives in dignity. She, for one, is grateful.
“This place is so nice. It’s beautiful here,” she said. “Everybody treats you so nice. The place is clean. It’s spotless. It’s the nicest place I’ve ever been to. I’d recommend it to anybody who is sick.”
Rose Hawthorne Lathrop, daughter of literary giant Nathaniel Hawthorne, founded the religious order in 1900.
The Home on Hunting Park Avenue opened in April 1930 and admits people who are unable to pay for their care.
“All we have ever done is take care of patients who are very sick with cancer,” said Sister Marie Edward, a registered nurse who is the superior and director of nursing at the local Home.
“It’s a very unique order. The objective of the Sisters is to provide an environment that is as peaceful and pleasant as possible. We do this for the love of God and love of neighbor. The Sisters do not get paid.”
Male nurses, who are paid, care for the male patients on the first floor. The Sisters, who care for the female patients on the second floor, get all of one day off per month. The convent is located on the third floor.
The staff tries to offer an atmosphere of peace, warmth, love, understanding and compassion.
Mary Lou Cressman, of the Northeast, experienced all of that when she visited her stepbrother, Dennis McNeill, who had lung cancer and was given two to four months to live in May 2011. He passed away after two months at the Home.
“He died in peace,” Cressman said. “He loved it here. The care is just phenomenal.”
Cressman brought her 2-year-old Australian shepherd/poodle mix, Bindi, to the Home to visit with Dennis.
During her visits, she gained such an appreciation of the Home that she has continued to visit regularly. In fact, she takes Bindi to the Home every Tuesday afternoon.
Guests and staff, not to mention Cressman, look forward to “Tuesdays with Bindi.” Every patient gets a lollipop with Bindi’s picture on the wrapper and kisses from the friendly dog.
Cressman, who helped prepare and deliver meals at the Home as a volunteer while a student at St. Hubert High School in the 1960s, has gotten to know the guests and staff very well. So has Bindi.
“We have met some of the most awesome people. They are beautiful, beautiful people,” she said.
The guests look forward to what Cressman and the staff consider pet therapy.
“Bindi is a sweetheart. She’s loving and caring,” said guest Angie Black, who allowed the dog to lick her fingers after lunch one day last week.
Sister Marie Edward thanks Bindi by giving her Milkbone treats, and thanks the benefactors who have kept the Home flourishing for 82 years.
“People are so generous,” she said. “God has provided. It’s totally funded by benefactors. The money has always been there. The patients pay for nothing.”
In all, there are only about 60 Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne. Ten of them work at the Home. The staff also includes eight male nurses.
Sister Marie Edward stresses that the Home is not a hospice. Besides nursing care, the staff provides spiritual and emotional support for the guests and their families.
The Home is licensed by the state Department of Health for 35 beds, but the staff can handle about 24 patients at a time.
“We really want to give the best care possible,” Sister Marie Edward said.
The length of stay for guests ranges from a couple of days to several years.
In fact, George Hoey has been at the Home for four years. He enjoys playing cards and watching traffic and smoking his pipe as he sits on an outdoor patio.
“It’s better than the street,” George said between hands of a game of 500 Rummy with two volunteers.
The Home is getting ready for a big Independence Day celebration for patients, staff and current and former patient families. It also decorates for Halloween, Christmas and other holidays.
“We try to make it very special for our patients,” Sister Marie Edward said.
The Home has a chapel. Mass is celebrated daily at 6:30 a.m. by the Rev. Neil Kilty, its chaplain. Kilty also visits guests every Friday.
A doctor visits twice a week and is on call.
A large garden features benches, trees, flowers, a statue of Mary, walking paths, a patio and an overall pleasant environment, thanks to gardener Rich Tenaglia.
The rooms are spacious and include bedside televisions.
“It’s quiet and clean,” said patient Martin Puntel. “The staff is marvelous. This place is like an island.”
Sister Marie Edward said those who are staying there generally range from their 30s to 90s. Many are happy, relaxed, content and pleasant and don’t complain. A few are restless and want to go home.
Some patients have a lot of company. Others have none.
“Cancer is a very fatiguing disease,” Sister Marie Edward said. “The days can be long.”
Sister Marie Edward said the Home staff mixes nursing, spiritual and emotional care in a way that makes guests leave this life in a peaceful way.
“We believe death is a steppingstone into eternity,” she said. “It’s a hard time, but it’s a vital time of a patient’s life.” ••