By Jennika Baines
Sun Associate Editor
This year marks St. Joseph Nursing Home’s 40th anniversary of providing a safe, caring environment for those who live in the Utica area.
The facility began as a response to the need for Catholic outreach for people who were aged, disabled and shut-in. Led by Henrietta Heenan, a member of the area’s Catholic Charities Board, a group conducted studies, earned grants and received approval from then-Bishop Walter Foery to move forward with construction on June 6, 1967.
In a letter to Bishop Foery before St. Joseph’s opened, Mother M. Angeline Teresa, foundress of the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, wrote that the order would “do all we can to make you very proud of this nursing home and will endeavor to maintain the highest standards.”
Now, 40 years later, the Carmelite Sisters are still serving the residents and the nursing home is a source of comfort and care for those who need it.
Mike McGuirl, LMSW, was there for the dedication ceremony on Dec. 13, 1971. There was a snowstorm raging outside, but McGuirl said the day couldn’t have been better. “It was great. It was just a beautiful day,” he said.
McGuirl is a member of St. Joseph’s corporate board of directors and he has a deep connection with the facility. His parents shared a room there for several years, and now he lives at St. Joseph’s. He said that he appreciates how caring and committed the staff members are, and he enjoys the activities available to him and the sense of spirituality that is a defining characteristic of St. Joseph’s.
“Father [David] Sambor has a really personal connection with the people here,” McGuirl said. Mass is offered every weekday at 4:30 p.m., and those residents who aren’t able to make it to the chapel can watch the Mass on closed-circuit cable which runs to the televisions in their rooms.
While the facility cares for anyone regardless of their religion, the sense of spirituality is an important part of St. Joseph’s. “There’s a real peaceful atmosphere here,” said Kathy Poupart, development director.
Rehabilitation services are also an important part of the care available at St. Joseph’s. “What we want to do at St. Joseph’s is to continue to evolve to meet the needs of the local community,” said Fred Deck, administrator.
As part of that plan, Deck said the center is evolving away from more “institutional” care methods and toward “patient-centered” care. An example of this would be serving residents dinner at a time that suits their usual schedule rather than serving it at a pre-determined time. Deck said some residents may have spent 40 years of their lives working the night shift, and eating dinner at 5 p.m. just isn’t normal for them.
Another new program meant to improve residents’ lives is the “It’s Never 2 Late” computer system. St. Joseph’s earned a N.Y. State Department of Health grant for two mobile computers and software that introduces older residents to the possibilities of the Internet. Residents are able to look up their childhood neighborhoods on Google Earth and e-mail old friends or family members.
“We just had a resident who wanted to talk to her granddaughter on Skype, so we got her on that and she was able to talk to her,” Deck said.
The computer systems can also provide resident profiles to new team members so they can have more of an idea of who a resident is — where they’re from, what they did as a career — beyond simply their immediate medical requirements. The computer system can also be used for physical therapy, for simulated flights or bike rides and to create artwork. “They make a big difference in the quality of life of the residents,” Poupart said.
Deck said these kinds of enriching experiences are what St. Joseph’s hopes to provide more of in the future.
“I would hope that we would be right here where we are in another 40 years,” Deck said. He said he hopes that future generations will also find a peaceful, compassionate home at St. Joseph’s.
“Forty years of caring, compassion and faith,” Poupart said, “that really sums up what we’re all about.”