County Clerk Wayne F. Jagow was standing at the entrance of the new $4.5 million Niagara Hospice House on Sunset Drive, Lockport, ready to offer a prayer for the grand opening.

“It’s difficult to ask for a blessing here because it’s already been blessed,” Jagow said, alluding to the state-of-the-art residential center that offers a home setting appropriate for hospice care.

“It’s a wonderful facility, a real testament to the people involved with the overall project,” he added.

Some 400 persons including donors, volunteers, staff and other guests attended the dedication.

Jagow, who formerly served in the county sheriff’s department, recalled that in earlier days the Hospice House site was a mere stone quarry.

“That’s why I often mention that it’s a rock solid place for health care, built on a good foundation,” he said.

Patricia Evans, a board member and one of the organization’s founders, said: “We’ve been dreaming of this facility since we founded Niagara Hospice in the 1980s. We know it’s needed and we know the business model will allow us to operate it in a financially secure manner.”

John Lomeo, president and CEO of Hospice and Palliative Care Group, explained that some of the staff and board members had visited several hospice houses in the Northeast to see how other organizations provided such services. “We asked what these organizations liked best about their hospice house and what they might have done differently. This provided tremendous feedback for us during the planning stages,” Lomeo said.

Minutes before the doors were opened, Lomeo added: “There is nothing I can say that would be as meaningful as what you are about to see. Painstaking attention to detail, always with the patient and family’s comfort in mind was our guide during the design and construction. We tried not to think of ourselves as healthcare providers but as hospitality providers. The environment was designed to compliment this philosophy.”

William L. Ross, vice chairman of the county Legislature, also was visibly impressed with what he described as another jewel in the Niagara area. “It’s really a ‘House of Compassion,’ ” he said.

Hospice family member Randy Schultz, a technical assistant and admissions officer at Niagara County Community College, shared compelling recollections of the care provided for his late mother.

Everyone touring the building agreed that it dispelled any image of strictly institutional care.

Amenities include a 1,000-gallon salt water aquarium, fireplaces and flat-screen TVs in two-family gathering rooms. There are eight suites in the residential wing — designed for longer stays — and 10 suites in the in-patient wing for those requiring short-term medical monitoring. (Additional information is available by calling 439-4417).

John Murphy and Linda Pellegrino of WKBW-TV (Channel 7), both of whom have helped with promoting the facility throughout Western New York, served as emcees for the Wednesday afternoon program.

Murphy, a Lockport native known for his sense of humor, noted that he grew up just a short distance from the Hospice House site. “In fact, when I was a kid, I sometimes spent weekends just around the corner — at the Niagara County Jail,” Murphy quipped, “Actually, I was probably trying to get my brother out.”

•••

OUT OF THE PAST: Niagara Hospice traces its origin to the fall of 1980 when the Rev. Bob Cook, Town of Tonawanda, gathered a group of concerned citizens, including co-founder Patricia Evans, to discuss the feasibility of developing a program for the county.

• The first board of directors was formed in 1984.

• In 1988 Niagara Hospice was licensed and served its first patients.

• Over the years, the offices were located in a small ranch house near the U.S. Air Force Base in Cambria and at the Colonel Payne School building in North Tonawanda.

Contact reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

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