By Adam Raider
Rev. William Gurnee enjoyed a very special relationship with his late aunt and uncle, Carl and Mary Rose Fiore. He was pleased – and more than a little relieved – when they chose to relocate from Burlington, CT to Pond Ridge, Masonicare’s assisted living facility in Wallingford.
“It was the nicest place that I’d ever seen, hands down,” said Fr. Gurnee, Director of Spiritual Formation at Blessed John Paul II Seminary in Washington, DC. “I was really impressed by the cleanliness, the quality of care, and the compassion that the staff shows the residents.”
Carl and Mary Rose were both retired biology professors. They enjoyed going to concerts and shared a lifelong love of learning, often attending lectures at their local library.
“They didn’t have any children of their own,” Fr. Gurnee said, “but my aunt Mary Rose was my father’s sister. She and Carl became very close to me and my siblings. They were my godparents. I was very blessed to have that relationship with them.”
Carl and Mary Rose were independent-minded and reluctant to burden family members with their troubles. Although he respected their desire to remain self-sufficient for as long as possible, Fr. Gurnee remembers the conversation that prompted him to take matters into his own hands.
“I was talking to them on the phone one day, and I asked my uncle how they were doing. And he said, ‘Oh, we’re doing okay, but we’re not eating that much because it takes a lot of energy to stand over the stove. It gets so exhausting that sometimes, it’s just easier not to eat.’ That was a huge red flag for me. I drove to Connecticut the very next day.”
Fr. Gurnee was extremely concerned about the health and well-being of his aunt and uncle. He sensed that although Mary Rose was ready for assisted living, Carl still needed some convincing.
“I was so nervous for them,” Fr. Gurnee said. “My aunt had always been thin but it seemed like she’d lost weight. And my uncle had back problems that made it difficult for him to stand for any length of time. Eventually, I persuaded my uncle to let me take them to visit a few assisted living facilities in the area.”
Ultimately, Carl and Mary Rose chose Pond Ridge as much for its lengthy list of amenities as for the seamless access it provides to a host of other healthcare services.
The Fiores moved into an apartment in Pond Ridge South in 2007. It was the ideal next step for two people who wanted to retain their independence while benefitting from the presence of trained staff and licensed clinicians. Meals, laundry, transportation, housekeeping and so much more would be taken care of, freeing Carl and Mary Rose to relax in safety and comfort.
“The level of service and the quality of care you get at Pond Ridge is top-notch,” said Jon-Paul Venoit, Masonicare’s Senior Vice President of Residential and Community Based Services. “When and if a resident there requires skilled nursing, they’ll have priority access to those services because they’re already within our continuum. No other standalone assisted living facility has that. It’s become an increasingly important part of our continuum, especially as we’ve been able to add additional services like dementia care and an adult day program for the memory impaired.”
“I think my aunt and uncle absolutely loved it at Pond Ridge,” Fr. Gurnee said. “I remember going to visit them once and when I stepped into the elevator, it was filled with flyers about all the upcoming resident activities. One of them read, ‘Come learn Tai Chi from Mary Rose Fiore.’ And I thought, ‘My godmother not only knows Tai Chi, but now she’s teaching it?’ I had no idea.”
“I thanked God every day that they were at Masonicare,” said Carl’s brother, Frank. “They had good care and the staff there just went above and beyond. Since I live in North Haven, I was able to visit my brother four or five times a week. If he was in the middle of a meal or happy hour, he’d sort of brush me off … but that was Carl.”
Carl and Mary Rose did each eventually require additional healthcare services. Mary Rose used the rehabilitation unit at Masonicare Health Center after a hospital stay while Carl required a home health aide at his Pond Ridge apartment before transitioning permanently to the Health Center.
When Mary Rose passed away in December 2009, her wake was held at a local funeral home. Fr. Gurnee remembers how his uncle Carl, by then confined to a wheelchair, was accompanied to the service by Kim Fiore (no relation), Resident Care Coordinator at Masonicare at Ashlar Village.
“I noticed that after Kim wheeled my uncle in,” Fr. Gurnee recalled, “she just leaned over and gently kissed the top of his head. It’s one thing to see that from a relative, but I have never, ever seen that from a paid staffer at a nursing home. You can’t be taught to do that – you do it because you care. That just blew me away.”
“On a more humorous note, I recall sitting in the Pond Ridge dining room for breakfast with my uncle, who was being a bit of a nudge, as usual. He turned to the young woman who was serving us that day and said, ‘Who’s going to take off my socks tonight?’ It’s 8:00 in the morning and this is what was on his mind. But this girl never skipped a beat. She just said, ‘Well, you know Carl, we’re all fighting for the privilege, but nobody’s won yet.’ I just died laughing. But you know what? That answer was good enough for my uncle. All he wanted to do was make sure that his needs were on somebody’s radar … and they were.”
Carl passed away while under hospice care at the Health Center in February of this year.
Reflecting on the compassionate care his godparents received as residents of Masonicare, Fr. Gurnee was moved to express his appreciation in a letter to Masonicare’s President and CEO, Stephen B. McPherson.
“We’ve all worked in business,” Fr. Gurnee said, “and so often, people complain or focus on the negative stuff. But it seemed to me that Masonicare is a really special place, and I thought your CEO deserved to know the quality of people who are working for him, and to say thank you.”