SPENCERPORT, N.Y. (WROC) — Many hospice and comfort care homes in the region have struggled financially throughout the pandemic, and have had to close their doors. Those are services that provide support and care for a patient and their family, as an individual nears end-of-life.
Marj Smith is the executive director of Aurora House Comfort Care Home in Spencerport. The house has room for two residents at a time, and two volunteers at a time for a shift. She said family members usually visit the home to have dinners, holiday gatherings and to simply spend time with their loved one nearing end of life.
Enter COVID-19 in March — it was a lot to take on for the home. “It was crazy, just like everybody else, we were like, ‘what is happening, today, this hour,’ never knew what was changing, we put protocols in place very quickly,” Smith said. She lost volunteers, because many are in high-risk age groups for COVID-19.
Along with that: fundraisers canceled, and an added cost of PPE. Fundraisers are especially important, since the home operates on a ‘pay it forward basis’ – there’s no government funding, it’s all fundraising and family-donation based. “No one is required to pay for services here, we do a pay it forward attitude: someone pays for you to be here, so you pass it along for the next person to enjoy the service as well…”
Smith said her biggest fundraiser of the year happens in Oct., and is not happening this year. She said it’s going to hurt a lot, as it usually makes over $20,000. People have donated here and there, but it isn’t enough to keep the doors open, she said.
“We’ve had generous people making masks for us, which we launder in between shifts, but all of the other things we need, disposable masks, gloves, those are all added costs that we didn’t have in our budget,” said Smith.
With all of these added challenges, Smith decided the best decision was to close the doors for the summer.
“We had our last resident who passed on March 20, and at that point we determined the best thing to do was to close given direction everything was going,” she said. “Some families have called saying, ‘I have a loved one, nearing end of life, are you open,’ I’ve had to say no, and the conversation is always heartbreaking because I hear the story of that person,” said Smith.
While the time closed has been challenging, Smith said she’s already looking at the next steps.
“The board of directors and I have been in close communication through this whole thing,” she said. “We are hoping to open mid Fall, so we’re working toward that, we have checklists and things in place to guide us as we go.”
Smith also started a volunteer campaign that has brought in a few applications, thanks to a big sign in front of the house. But for now, she’s just waiting for the day she can open her doors. “Hopefully with the campaign … we will reach a number of volunteers where we can open but at this point it’s a little low, so we’re hoping there are people out there who will have the hearts for it,” she said. Smith said there are 56 shifts a week that need to be filled.
“This is the hardest part that we are not able to help our community right now,” she said. “It’s a different kind of volunteering, but its a very rewarding time to be with somebody”
Smith says no experience is needed to be a volunteer, and training is provided as well.