By Patrick Donachie
Jamaica Medical Center’s hospice care unit began with four beds in 2010, with a palliative care staff who worked to ensure dignity and comfort care for patients. The wing expanded throughout the years, but Sept. 22 the hospital announced a new renovation to be completed for the space, creating a home-like atmosphere for patients and families.
“The care the doctors are giving is so wonderful, but the place doesn’t match that,” Cassandra Valesse, a social worker on the palliative care staff, said about the renovations. “I’m happy we’re making it more of a home than a hospital.”
The new space will be called the Ferrara Family Center for Hospice Care, named for Joseph A. Ferrara, a humanitarian who supported the new renovations. The improvements will include suites for patients and family members, a conference room for meetings between caregivers and family members, as well as a more welcoming and comfortable atmosphere.
“When you meet the palliative care staff, you won’t meet a more dedicated staff,” Ferrara said prior to the start of the ceremony. “It’s great that we can give them some better tools so they can do their job.”
The announcement of the renovation took place in the north garden room of the Jamaica Hospital facility at 89-40 135th St. In addition to Ferrara and much of the palliative care staff, attendees included Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach), Jamaica Hospital President Bruce J. Flanz, and Ed Schraeder, who had worked as a respiratory therapist at the hospital for 38 years and had two family members die in the hospital’s hospice care unit.
Schraeder told the audience about his aunt, who was diagnosed with a terminal carcinoma and needed medical help beyond home hospice care. Schraeder said the care given by the staff in the hospital’s hospice care unit was exceptional, a feeling he said was shared by his aunt.
“On her deathbed, she said, ‘I made the right decision coming here,’” he said.
Dr. Alan Roth, the chairman of the hospital’s Department of Family Medicine and the chief of the Palliative Care Medicine Department said that hospice care in a hospital was reserved for those with the most severe symptoms and needs, including pain medication delivered intravenously or patients that need frequent adjustments to their medication.
“Hospice is not a place. It’s a philosophy of care,” Roth said, noting that most hospice care was done in the home.
Roth also said he hoped the refurbished care unit would help to educate the surrounding community about how patients can benefit from hospice care, noting that doctors are sometimes reticent to suggest it as an option and patients are sometimes unwilling to accept it as a treatment path, with the result being that patients often enter hospice care long into an illness, having undergone health difficulties that could have been mitigated through palliative care.
“It’s about the full circle of life,” he said. “It’s about the love of life.”
Roth said the renovations would take about six months to complete, and the hospital hoped to begin work within the month.
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona