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New hospice center set to open in Watertown

Hospice groups provide care and comfort to patients facing the end of their lives. Hospice of Jefferson County has a new building – but it’s more than that, since it represents a big upgrade in the kind of care it can offer to dying patients. 

Hospice treats about 40 patients at a time. Until now, the end-of-life comfort and care that the group offers has been only in patients’ homes. But not all patients can or want to die at home.  

The new building, on Gotham Street in Watertown, has room for eight patients to live in comfort and with round-the-clock care during their last months or weeks of life.

“Sometimes, patients just don't have the kind of family support that allows them to stay at home in a safe and comfortable environment, so the hospice residence tries to replicate that to the fullest extent possible,” said CEO Stephen Lyman.

“What would happen with those patients previously?,” I asked.

“Well, they either would be left in less than ideal situations, or they would have to be cared for in inpatient facilities, in hospitals or in nursing homes,” said Lyman.

He shows me the kitchen. It’s not stark white like a hospital’s. Wooden tables and chairs are spread throughout the room. It feels homey.

“This looks really comfortable,” I said.”It looks very, sort of, humane. It doesn't look institutional, really.”

“Yeah, absolutely,” said Lyman.”So we've tried to incorporate those kinds of features into the design from the outset, very much working to make it as home-like as we can, recognizing that it's still a medical facility. So, you know, we want it to be clean and safe, but also to be warm, as much as we can.”

That feeling of warmth permeates the hospice residence. Patient rooms look out on a pond, where deer come for a drink. The rooms look more like real bedrooms than hospital rooms, and patients will be encouraged to bring items from home to surround them. Each has access to an outdoor space.

Lyman says the building will accommodate not just patients, but lots of visitors too.

“So you'll see in the residence, we do try to make it as family-friendly as we can,” he said. “We hope and expect that patients will have lots of visitors.”

There is a living room with a fireplace and a special nook for children, with toys available. There is a quiet room for prayer and reflection. No one is refused services based on their financial circumstances.

Allison Gorham has been a volunteer for Hospice of Jefferson County for over 12 years. She says some patients simply don’t want to die at home. Parents who have children at home sometimes worry that their kids will always associate their homes with their mother or father’s death. Other patients live alone or have families that live far away and can’t take daily care of them during their last months of life.

Gorham says the needs of the dying are really individual. Some patients want to be in a hospital setting.

“But a lot of times, when you're actively dying, as they call it, you know, you really don't want to hear all the beeps and bells and whistles and busyness in the hallways, and so to have this kind of option, to go peacefully and transition, calmly and with some dignity, and love and care around you, that's 100 percent of the reason why I think that people would want to be up here,” said Gorham.

Lyman says the residence was built with the help of a state grant secured under then-state-Senator Darrel Aubertine, and a major capital campaign that helped move the organization from offices in downtown Watertown to this more spacious and expansive facility near Thompson Park. An open house for the community will be held today, and the group hopes to begin admitting its first residents after March 1.