A beloved community asset is reborn
The buzzing of saws and staccato of nail guns are filling the air at the McCarthy Care Center in Sandwich, as renovations begin at the hospice inpatient facility. Closed since early 2019, when then owner HopeHealth turned over its Cape Cod operations to Cape Cod Healthcare, the hospice center now looks to a late-spring reopening, said Ann-Marie Peckham, president and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNA), which now owns the building.
The transfer of ownership to the VNA (and its parent company, Cape Cod Healthcare) from HopeHealth took the better part of last year, as it wound its way through state approvals, said Peckham. The transfer was officially approved in September 2019, and Cape Cod Healthcare building officials spent the rest of the year assessing the facility and deciding what kinds of upgrades were needed to bring it up to 2020 standards, both cosmetically and in regard to regulatory requirements, she said.
When it reopens, the ambiance that the beloved center has always been known for – home-like, warm, soothing and welcoming - will be intact, said Sharon Molinaro, VNA Hospice director of operations and McCarthy Care Center. The name, given in honor of Mary E. McCarthy, founder of the Cape’s first hospice in the early 1980s, Hospice of Cape Cod (later known as Hospice and Palliative Care of cape Cod), will also remain, said Molinaro.
McCarthy Care Center (MCC) is a hospice inpatient facility with 10 private patient rooms. The facility manages acute care needs of patients who are already in hospice care.
“If symptoms become too challenging to manage at home, then patients come to the center,” said Peckham. “We then adjust medications and treatment plans.”
MCC medical director Jorge Alfonso, MD, along with associate physicians Henry Casey, MD and Devin McManus, MD, work with patients and family members on care plans, she said.
The average length of stay for patients is three to five days, after which they usually return home, she said.
“You could think of it as a hospice ICU,” Peckham said.
The VNA has continued to provide acute hospice care throughout MCC’s closure and has contracts with Cape Cod and Falmouth hospitals and skilled nursing facilities in the area to address acute care needs of hospice patients. Patients’ hospice teams continue to care for them while in an acute care facility, Peckham said.
The infrastructure of MCC will not change under the current $1.2 million construction plan, said Peckham. The worn wood floors are all being replaced with a more durable, easier to clean wood product, and window treatments, kitchen cabinets and counters are all being upgraded. Technology within the facility is also receiving a much-needed upgrade, she said.
The lovely wooded grounds, which include a brick memory walkway, gardens, benches, gazebo and bird bath, will remain the same, she added. Donors Terry and E.J. Jaxtimer have donated the expansion of gardens and walkways at the Center.
“We have had a lot of calls from community members, and we have assured them the outdoor area will stay the same. I’m sure we’ll carry on with that theme,” Peckham said.
All of the artwork originally in the Center is being stored in a temperature-controlled environment and will be brought back to hang in the newly renovated facility, according to Peckham. The grand piano that has been a fixture at MCC is in storage at Piano Works in Sandwich and will be returned to its prominent position in the great room, she said.
Integral to the renovation process has been a patient and family advisory council comprised of family members of former MCC patients, donors, staff members and a former volunteer. The PFAC, as it is known, was brought together by CCHC last fall, said Pauline Neves, former vice president of philanthropy for HopeHealth, who is now senior development officer for the Cape Cod Healthcare Foundation.
“The feedback I’m getting from committee members is that they’re very grateful they’ve been asked to comment and take part, happy to see Cape Cod Healthcare’s commitment and they’re anxious to see it reopen,” she said.
Among the council members are David and Missy McGraw, son and daughter-in-law of one of the original MCC donors, Donald and Anne McGraw. It was the family’s $750,000 donation that enabled completion of the lower floor of the facility in 2015. Housed on this level are counseling rooms, kitchen, offices and a conference room.
Community members hold the Center in a special place, said Molinaro. VNA receives calls every week from people asking when the facility will reopen, she said. MCC is the only licensed inpatient hospice facility on Cape Cod. The next closest such center is in Lincoln. (There are closer ‘hospice houses’ where people can go for hospice care, but they are not licensed, acute care settings, she said.)
The McCarthy Care Center building, itself, is special, having been designed by the late Grattan Gill, who was a student of renowned American architect Frank Lloyd Wright. When Gill was a professor of architecture at Roger Williams University in Rhode Island, he was known to occasionally bring some of his students through the McCarthy Center, according to Neves.
The facility was originally built on land donated by Jack Jillson and Sarah ter Horst, she added.
Neves’ own experience with MCC was both professional and personal. In addition to her fundraising role with HopeHealth, both her mother-in-law and father-in-law were patients at the facility.
“It’s hard to explain what a special place it is,” she said. “It’s just not a typical healthcare facility.”