For Jean Crawford, caring for those with a terminal illness is a spiritual gift.
The registered nurse runs Alice’s Rest and Comfort Home in Avoca, which provides 24-hour care to patients who have less than three months to live.
“Their faith has been tested at this point,” Crawford explained. “Yet they know the end is near, and they look at their lives. We try to help them with their health needs, of course, but we also try to work with them in finding peace. Most, when they pass over, seem happier somehow. It’s such a spiritual time for them, and it’s an honor to walk with them during this difficult journey.”
Crawford and Sue Dominick, another registered nurse, founded the home in 2004. Having worked in hospice care in the Rochester area, the two Catholic women felt Steuben County had a real need for this type of care.
The home is named after Alice Holmes, Crawford’s aunt who passed away in 1999; her uncle, Edward Holmes, died three years later. After inheriting the home from her uncle, Crawford knew she didn’t want to sell or rent the property to strangers.
“My aunt was like a mother to me,” Crawford said. “I think she’d be pleased with how her home is being used now.”
Unlike regulated hospices, this home accommodates only two patients at a time, providing comfort care, pain management and a respite for families. Also unusual is the fact that the home provides care free of charge to the patients and their families.
“We believe that all persons have a right to die with dignity,” Crawford said. “The financial burden of these families has been so great. It was our choice to do it this way. We had the home right here, so we decided not have any restrictions. We don’t even take any financial information.
“So many people just can’t go home from the hospital,” she added. “This is a good alternative for them and their families, because we provide the care they need in a loving home.”
Tammi Horton of Corning was impressed with the care provided to her aunt, who passed away at the home in December.
“It was just a home,” Horton explained. “And I mean that in the most wonderful way. My aunt could watch television if she wanted or take a nap. There were accommodations for the families. It really struck me as being important that it was just a home.”
Being in a comfortable environment also provided Horton with the opportunity to reconnect with her aunt, Ann Rose Heckart.
“It was as simple as sitting on a couch and just talking,” Horton shared. “Our last meetings were ones of healing. We learned about her past, and just were able to say all the things we needed to say. I will always treasure that.”
Because of her own experience, Horton decided she wanted to give back to Alice’s Rest and Comfort Home, so she now volunteers there four to eight hours a week. Also a registered nurse, she said it’s a rewarding service.
“The home made a huge difference for my aunt,” she said. “Hospice is a huge decision, and the fact that this home exists and does not charge makes a huge difference. Many people cannot afford care, and this is a roof over their head and so much peace of mind for the families.”
Alice’s Rest and Comfort Home operates on a budget of about $100,000 annually, with funding derived from donations, fundraising activities, and volunteer support. Right now, Crawford and Dominick work full time jobs in addition to providing 24-hour coverage at the home. The ultimate goal is to raise enough money to allow them to work solely at the home.
The service also needs about 60 regular volunteers, who do not provide direct patient care. Instead, they can assist with tasks ranging from lawn care to office management.
Deacon Ray Defendorf, pastoral administrator at St. Mary’s Church in Bath, is a new volunteer.
“It’s a needed service in the community, and I’ve been very impressed with the facility,” he said. “I’ve arranged for patients to have the Holy Sacrament of the sick, and we’ve blessed each room. I think it helps the individuals and their families to be in such a beautiful home setting. It’s also in a rural area with nature all around, and I think that lends some peace as well.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: For information on donating to or volunteering with Alice’s Rest and Comfort Home, call (607)566-3420.