A place to call home: Hospice of the Fisher Home launches $500K capital campaign

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-25-2023 7:23 PM

Before Anita Sarro’s mother died in 2012, the setting and staff at the Hospice of the Fisher Home in North Amherst center brought comfort and compassion for the final three weeks her mother lived, and to her family during that time.

“I saw how the whole family benefited from the hospice experience,” says Sarro, now the board president for the nonprofit organization.

Sarro was at a kick-off event at the 1165 North Pleasant St. building late last month or a $500,000 “Keep Us Rooted” capital campaign, aimed at covering the costs of infrastructure repairs to keep the property functional for the nine patients Fisher Home can accommodate and the 50 on-site staff personnel. The facility is designed to have a home-like atmosphere, with all rooms having windows to the outdoors and almost all having a bird feeder.

“We want more people to know about hospice because of what it gives to the person in transition ... it’s important that we have a safe and healthy environment for both patients and staff,” Sarro said.

Hospice of the Fisher Home, unaffiliated with a hospital system, has occupied the site since 2006, two years after the Amherst Home for Aged Women donated the property and its endowment. Since opening with six rooms, it has added three additional rooms. The staff includes a medical director, nurses, aides, social workers and counselors.

Still offering a place for people to spend their final weeks, Fisher Home does significantly more through its staff and large number of volunteers, with bereavement counselors who fan out into the community and spiritual counselors meeting with families throughout the Connecticut River Valley.

It is the only five-star rated hospice by Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Hospice Quality Reporting Program in western Massachusetts, and one of only two in the state. But without improvements to the building, which operates as the headquarters and hub for providing patient care for in the house and in skilled nursing facilities, the future could be bleak.

“Over the years we’ve grown and things have changed,” Executive Director Maria Rivera said. “It’s nice to know that this a place patients can come, and it’s also a place people can call home.”

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Along with the bedrooms, there is a living room, a dining room and a kitchen. Rivera said two-thirds of the more than 200 people served annually stay in their own homes, a change from when she first came in 2010, with most of the care then given within the walls of the building.

An old building

The issues with the building are evident, with part of a hallway filled with cones and yellow tape, and a ceiling leaking caused by malfunctioning pipes that are part of the HVAC system.

Contractors are expected to be on site to begin repairs next week, now that the last resident has moved to the Center for Extended Care, work is ready to begin. Climates by Pomeroy in Colrain is handling the HVAC work and putting in a new generator, and Paciorek Electric in Hatfield is overhauling the cooling and heating system. Other work includes insulation improvements in the attic, carpentry and painting.

Bruce Montague, a volunteer for the Fisher Home who arranged this work, said there were challenges to get contractors to commit. Once complete, though, it will be a better environment, with residents able to control the temperatures in their own rooms.

A computer system and new IT system are also being planned.

The work should be completed in about five weeks, Rivera said, though there is an understanding that projects may take more time.

Sarro, too, would like to see the work finished soon. “We hope to have this all done in record time so we can have more people here,” Sarro said.

Fisher Home is seeking to continue to adjust to changing times, pursuing a Department of Public Health license so underserved populations will also have opportunities to get the same level of hospice care as others. The home currently can take Medicaid and insurance payments, but the new license, Sarro said, would broaden its services, while also making it easier for patient turnover and ensuring vacancies are minimized.

Though a fixture in North Amherst and essentially a small business, Fisher Home is quiet and in some ways hidden, with a large expanse of lawn and gazebo.

“We see this as a real opportunity to get message out about the services we provide,” Sarro said.

Dina Stander, another member of the board, said what she has appreciated is that people go out and talk to families and have conversations about end of life choices. Stander hopes the campaign will inspire donors to step up.

Another board member, Kim Alli, said community events also help raise awareness. These also serve as fundraisers. In the coming months, “Healing Waters,” a day of storytelling about loss, mourning and hope, is being held at the Shea Theater in Turners Falls Nov. 5 at 2 p.m., then “Casino Royale,” with fun, food and drink, and a silent auction, takes place Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. at the University of Massachusetts Campus Center.

In addition, the public is encouraged to continue shopping at the Hospice of the Fisher Home store at 6 University Drive, which provides a source of revenue for operations. A donation page is at fisherhome.org

“This is a really important place for a lot of reasons, and it’s really important to continue being part of this community,” Rivera said.

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