New Canaanites Help Drive ‘Fairfield County Hospice House’ Project

STAMFORD—New Canaan’s Julia Portale stood on the grass verge just off of this residential road in Stamford on Tuesday afternoon, the Douglas fir frame of a new structure rising on the 1.3-acre lot behind her.

L-R: Arnold Karp, Julia Portale and Cynthia Gorey stand by the site of Fairfield County Hospice House in Stamford on March 1, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

L-R: Arnold Karp, Julia Portale and Cynthia Gorey stand by the site of Fairfield County Hospice House in Stamford on March 1, 2016. Credit: Michael Dinan

Known in New Canaan as a longtime Girl Scouts leader who taught Sunday School at the Congregational Church and now serves on the New Canaan Land Trust’s board of directors, Portale holds master’s degrees (from Yale) in both public health and business administration.

For the last few years, she’s been running a home care hospice program in Fairfield—and, next year if all goes as Portale and a host of advocates for this project off of the Merritt Parkway’s Exit 33 are planning, she’ll be running a new type of hospice program that will serve New Canaan and other area families.

A watercolor rendering of Fairfield County Hospice Home in Stamford. Published with permission from FCHH

A watercolor rendering of Fairfield County Hospice Home in Stamford. Published with permission from FCHH

“This is the setting that is the next best thing to home for people who are dying and who do not need intensive care, do not need facility-level care and can’t stay at home,” Portale said from the future site of Fairfield County Hospice House (see rendering at right), where she will serve as executive director. “If patients cannot stay at home, it is an opportunity for them to be in a home environment, a house that allows family to come in and spend quality time with loved ones in a home setting.”

Founded and governed by a nonprofit organization that’s been actively fundraising, site-seeking and otherwise galvanizing support for four years, Fairfield County Hospice House is expected to meet a pressing need that affects scores of area families. In a word, the home provides an intimate, non-institutional setting for people who are nearing the ends of their lives and require continual medical attention that cannot be subsidized through the regular home hospice benefit, and whose loved ones also cannot, as a practical matter, leave their jobs and lives in order to step in and provide that intense level of care-giving.

“In order to qualify for hospice, you have to have a diagnosis of less than six months to live, and most people with this kind of diagnosis would like to stay at home and enjoy the last weeks and months of their lives,” Portale said. “Some people can do this, but the hospice benefit itself covers only a couple of hours a day of a nurse or home health aide. The rest of the time you need to be the caregiver or pay for 24-hour care, which can become a tremendous caregiver or financial burden. For many families who can’t provide this they have to transfer their loved ones to a hospital, nursing home or inpatient hospice many miles away.”

Architectural plans call for a 2-story home that has six bedrooms with porches and private baths, a living room with fireplace, sanctuary, library, dining room, staff offices and medical room on the first floor, and family respite and staff suites (“The way they work, those staff members really become part of the extended family in this situation,” Portale said), meeting and event rooms on the second floor. Nestled among trees that line all sides of the property—itself donated by the Roxbury Community Association—the home’s landscaping plan (designed pro bono by Wes Stout and Associates of New Canaan) calls for a brick patio out back, playground area and memorial garden, as well as ample parking (see PDF embedded below).

The project resonated with New Canaan’s Arnold Karp, a home builder (and 1977 Stamford High School graduate) who contacted his own suppliers and friends in the business in order to make the project at Den and Roxbury Roads in Stamford more affordable.

“My view is that it is a lower Fairfield County project,” Karp said. “Hopefully nobody we know ever needs to use it but having gone through that experience, you never know when you need it. It’s here. It’s available to everybody from New Canaan.”

The New Canaan Community Foundation during last year’s cycle also supported the project with a $4,000 grant. Cynthia Gorey, the Community Foundation’s president and CEO, said the organization pledged money about one year ago to be released when the Hospice House held its groundbreaking (in November).

“We are really impressed with the amount of support they have from so many volunteers from so many different towns and it’s really a regional resource for people,” Gorey said.

The board includes people with backgrounds in hospice and post-acute care (such as Sharon Bradley of the Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County), clinical expertise, business, construction, legal, financial, fundraising, marketing and governance expertise.

So far they’ve raised $1 million to start construction of Fairfield County Hospice House and another $1.5 million is needed to complete the job. The board also is seeking to establish a $3 million endowment for those who cannot afford to pay, and is seeking both donations and help from anyone who could host or contribute items to fundraisers, or volunteer to support fundraising events (see contact information below).

For Karp, the idea that Fairfield County Hospice House could serve a local family going through a difficult time, especially a family that otherwise could not afford to provide such intimate care to a loved one, is a worthwhile cause.

“I think most of us are not chasing our dinners each day,” he said. “I think that we can afford to support causes like this.”

For more information or to get involved, contact Fairfield County Hospice House at 203-323-1412 or juliaportale@gmail.com.

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