Regional Hospice, an incomparable haven for life’s last journey
My husband, Gary, arrived at Regional Hospice in Danbury on a Tuesday night, just after the Labor Day holiday weekend. He had been transported by ambulance from Yale–New Haven Hospital, where his doctors informed us that he had less than a month to live. Ten months earlier, we were about to celebrate 40 years together. Our son and daughter were in wonderful places in their lives. My husband’s newest business venture was taking off. Life was good. Then, a diagnosis of bladder cancer created a major detour. As a result, my husband sought various treatments, from alternative therapies to chemo, none of which halted the disease. Over the course of his illness, he lost 80 pounds and was in constant pain. My once-vibrant, ever-optimistic soul mate was now a battered, beaten-up shadow of his former self. I held his hand as he leaned delicately on the edge of his bed. He smiled wanly at me and said, “This is no fun.”
Yet within minutes of our arrival at Regional Hospice, a trio of caregivers quietly and gently got busy making my husband as comfortable as possible—restoring the pain medication that had dwindled during the long ambulance ride, adjusting his bed and pillows to accommodate his diminished frame, rustling up from the private kitchen the kind of bland food he now craved, and, not insignificantly, finding his favorite sports channels on the large, flat-screen TV. As these efficient angels of mercy cheerfully went about their business, I stepped aside to take in my surroundings.
The private L-shaped suite, one of 12, is spacious and luxurious with a tall bay window and large French doors that open to a private balcony overlooking a peaceful, woodland setting. The dark-wood floors and furniture complement cream-colored walls. A round table and four comfortable chairs fit into the curve of the bay window. A long leather couch opens to a full-size bed for visiting family, and a leather recliner is ideal for relaxing. The commodious corner bath feels like a retreat with its tasteful tiling, dark-glass-paneled doors, modern fixtures, and subtle lighting. There is no hospital feel, but instead a boutique-hotel vibe.
Nestled just off the Mill Plain Road exit of I-84, the year-old Regional Hospice and Home Care (RHHC), over a decade in the making, is uniquely designed to make a person’s final transition as dignified and uplifting as possible. Family spaces are light-filled and gorgeously decorated, from the communal kitchen, sunny sitting rooms, and living rooms with fireplaces and aquariums to the library, chapel, outdoor playground, and furnished terrace. Round-the-clock care is delivered by a loving staff of professionals, from nurses and social workers to ministers and even a notary public. A skilled chef honors almost any request as he prepares delicious, seasonal foods. Many patients, my husband included, who had no appetite on arrival, take pleasure in eating once again. For the brief period patients have left, they are, in a way, revived.
Guiding the design of the facility, Cynthia Roy, president and CEO of RHHC, has a passion and drive that was fueled early in her life when her best friend passed away. “Lesley, who died many years ago, changed my life forever—and probably one of the reasons I became a social worker and was compelled to care for the dying,” Roy says. She recalls how her friend longed for fresh air in her sealed room, and so Roy had to carry her outside. As a result, every suite at RHHC has bedside access to a balcony and fresh air—no matter the weather. In order for Roy and her team to realize their vision, other obstacles had to be overcome such as changing outdated regulations that called for a water fountain by each bedside, phone booths in the hallways, and curtains between beds—none of which were close to current best practices or supportive of private-room environments.
Perhaps what sets Regional Hospice apart from other such places is that employees have a genuine vocation to relieve suffering and bring joy to the dying, so much so that a majority of them donate a portion of their paycheck to support RHHC’s fundraising efforts. It’s an amazing endorsement and probably accounts for the atmosphere of respect and harmony that is so palpable. Trained volunteers and free support groups are additional bonuses.
A week before my husband died, he called to tell me about the delicious butternut-squash soup he was enjoying. He sounded like himself, his voice strong and happy. “You don’t need to bring anything,” he said. “I’m all set, and I’ll see you tomorrow.”