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Ryan Lavine

Planning for the End

Regional Hospice Creates a Human Connection for Both Family and Patient

By Joseph Montebello

Speaking from experience, Mary Schinke firmly believes that dying at home is overrated. And as president of the board of directors of Regional Hospice in Danbury, she personally understands the trauma, confusion, and sadness a family endures over the loss of a loved one. A year and a half ago Schinke’s husband Steven died of lung disease. They met when she was his research assistant at Columbia and they had been married for 32 years.

“I have experienced the hospice from both sides,” says Schinke, “as a volunteer and as a recipient of its benefits. People say they want to die at home; I think what they are really saying is they don’t want to die in a hospital with all that that entails. I think it’s important for a person to have a calm, peaceful, beautiful place that is not a hospital setting. It reduces the stress on the family and the patient gets out of the home. Having been through it myself, my husband’s and my stress level dropped enormously when he went into hospice care because then I could just be his wife. I was not responsible for anything else. At home I didn’t know what I was doing. At the center you can just be at that person’s side as a parent, spouse, or whatever you are to that individual.”

But Schinke, who is an attorney in Roxbury and New York specializing in estate planning, got involved with Regional Hospice for an entirely different reason.

“I have a very calm and sweet Bichon Frise named Charlotte. She is a quintessential lap dog and I thought she would make a great therapy dog. A friend told me about Regional Hospice and I started volunteering with Charlotte. Eventually I was invited to join the board.”

Regional Hospice began in 1983 providing at-home services for patients with terminal illnesses who no longer benefited from treatment. Its services include nursing, social work, spiritual care, home health aids, volunteers, bereavement support, all prescription medication, and all durable medical equipment.

The brains and passion behind the success of the organization is Cynthia Emiry Roy, who has spent her career in hospice services, having been president and CEO for the past 15 years.

“People are afraid of the ‘H’ word,” says Roy. “We are about helping people live fully, about being hopeful and passionate and about approaching the end in a more positive and humane way.”

After successfully creating the 40,000 square-foot facility she is now planning the new children’s wing.

“We do have a large in-home program for children but we wanted this to be especially for their needs,” Roy explains. “There is only one such facility in the northeast and only five in the nation. Each child’s room will have a planetarium on the ceiling; a giant video screen will feature oceans and scenic images. Additionally, the suites will have patios so patients can be wheeled outside. Kids look at life differently from adults and the resilience they show during their illness is remarkable. And this new facility will have an impact on so many children.”

Schinke and Roy met several years ago when they were serving on a committee together.

“Mary is remarkable and I knew she would be a great addition to our board. We also have another connection. She brought her husband to one of our first cocktail parties and she thought I might know him. It turned out he was an endowed professor at Columbia and had been one of my instructors in graduate school. 20 years later he is in my building and his wife is on our board.”

Together these two women and their colleagues are changing the image of hospices and making sure that terminally ill patients of all ages receive the best care during their final days.

Regional Hospice

30 Milestone Rd

Danbury, CT 06810

regionalhospicect.org

203-702-7400

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