By Julia Bruce
When Regional Hospice opened the Center for Comfort Care & Healing in Danbury in 2015—establishing Connecticut’s first and only state-of-the-art, private suite hospice—President and CEO Cynthia Emiry Roy MS, LCSW, CHA knew she wanted the building design to include an accessible garden for patients and families. For Roy, the connection between nature and patients’ experience is a personal one.
As a teenager, she lost her best friend to leukemia. During long hospital stays, her friend was unable to go outside to see the trees or sit in the grass. With this experience, Roy knew that access to the outside needed to be an integral part of this unique model of care she envisioned. “Many people who come to our Center have been in an environment where they haven’t been able to go outside for months. Being in nature is so soothing for the soul,” says Roy.
Roy connected with Jane Didona of Didona Associates Landscape Architects who helped design and facilitate the 5,000 square foot courtyard garden. Didona had previously been on the board of Regional Hospice and has continued to support the agency. She assisted with zoning issues and enlisting various local contractors and vendors to either donate or provide their services at a lower cost.
Based on a traditional English garden, complete with dramatic landscape lighting at night, the Center for Comfort Care & Healing Garden offers intimate spaces for families to congregate as well as larger areas for fundraising-type gatherings.
The thresholds of all doorways are seamless for easy access. Various pathways, wide enough to accommodate chairs and medical beds, allow visitors to meander through the plants and flowers. Many of the pavers are engraved with sentiments for lost loved ones. The effect of water trickling in the fountains and wind rustling the tall grasses is very relaxing and meditative. “We were looking to create a garden space that was therapeutic,” says Didona.
This dedicated playground makes the Regional Hospice Center one of the only hospice centers in the country with a dedicated play space. A main feature is a playhouse, donated by the grandparents of Charlotte Helen Bacon, one of the young victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
In addition to in-house hospice care at the Center, Regional Hospice also provides community bereavement support—free of charge—through its Healing Hearts program. These support groups were integral to the friends and families who lost loved ones in the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. In gratitude, a group of Newtown teens, led by Ryan Patrick, raised funds to install a children’s playground in the garden, making the Center one of the only hospice centers in the country with a dedicated play space. A brass bell, engraved with the teens’ names, honors their contribution. Additionally, an adorable playhouse was donated by the grandparents of Charlotte Helen Bacon, one of the young victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy.
“I wanted a play area that was not typical but more sculptural and aesthetically pleasing,” says Didona. The resulting design allows patients and families to sit among the flowers and watch their children or grandchildren play.
The Center for Comfort Care & Healing also provides pediatric hospice. An addition to the Center is currently in the works and hopes to open sometime in 2022. North Star, when finished will be the only dedicated children’s hospice in the Northeast. “I wanted a space for children that was special and uniquely for kids,” says Roy.
Time spent in the garden offers comfort for those at the Center. “We are walking on a journey with people at a really difficult time of their lives,” says Roy, “so my philosophy is that if we can make the environment as beautiful and serene as possible, the memories of that loss are better supported.”