Comfort Care Making a Difference in the Finger Lakes

Pathway Home in Seneca County has seen about 60 men and women come through its doors since its inception in 2017

By Margaret McCormick

A plaque in the office at Pathway Home of the Finger Lakes reads, “Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations.’’

It’s an apt message for the home’s leadership team and for anyone who spends any time there.

Pathway Home, on Route 414 in the town of Tyre, is the only comfort care home in Seneca County. Its mission is to provide compassionate care to people in their end days, usually with three months or less to live. Staff and volunteers are on hand 24/7 to meet the physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs of the men and women in their care, in a supportive home environment.

With its peaceful setting and perfectly manicured lawns and flowerbeds, Pathway Home looks like many other ranch homes in the Finger Lakes countryside. But it’s a special place. The home has two beds for residents, which are two of just 88 comfort care beds in all of New York state, according to Pathway Home Executive Director Martha “Martie” Shields.

“We’re a home in the community that just happens to have two residents in hospice,’’ she says. “We’re extended family and extra hands. The family is still considered the primary caregiver. They’re just doing it in our home instead of theirs.’’

Studies show that most people would prefer to die at home, in their own familiar surroundings, if possible. No one wants to spend the last leg of their life journey in a hospital or nursing home, attached to tubes and high-tech equipment, tended to by an army of medical professionals. But despite their best wishes and planning, that’s how many people die.

Average stay: 10 to 14 days

Pathway Home traces its roots to 2009, when a group of community members began making plans and raising funds for it. Hospice care workers in the area were keenly aware of the need: the nearest comfort care homes in the rural Finger Lakes are an hour away, or more.

The home welcomed its first residents in 2017 and has since seen about 60 men and women come through its doors. For some, the stay is very short — one patient was there for just a few hours before passing. For others it’s longer than expected: One woman was there for nearly nine months. The average stay is 10 to 14 days, according to Shields and Beth Boehnke, Pathway Home assistant director.

Shields came to Pathway Home after an extensive career in nursing. She previously was a registered nurse for Lifetime Care and Finger Lakes Medical Associates. Boehnke volunteered her time on fundraising events and served on the home’s board of directors before assuming her staff position. “I got sucked in,’’ she says with a smile.

Despite its mission and role, the atmosphere at Pathway Home is far from grim. At times, it can be lighthearted and joyous. Several residents have wanted to cook and bake in the large kitchen and residents who are able are welcome to use the back deck. The home has hosted at least one wedding, when a young couple exchanged vows in the room of the bride’s grandmother, with other family members in attendance.

“Taking care of someone at home is exhausting not just physically but emotionally,’’ Boehnke says. “One of the really nice things we get to see is families interacting and supporting each other.’’

Running on Donations

Admission to Pathway Home is based solely on need without regard to age, gender, race or spiritual beliefs. The home runs on donations, grants and fundraisers.

In order to sustain the quality of its services, the home’s directors will discuss the cost of care with spouses and family members of residents and suggest sliding-scale donations based on income and length of stay. No one is turned away due to lack of financial resources.

The one-floor house has several common areas, including a living room with television, dining room and a large, open kitchen, where family members can relax, socialize and enjoy coffee, tea and snacks or a meal. The patient rooms are airy and bright, outfitted with hospital beds, dressers, chairs, TV and sleeper sofas, where family members are invited to rest and spend the night if they wish. Visiting hours are open and the home is staffed 24/7. Lifetime Care and Hospice of Wayne and Seneca Counties provide additional support for residents

A dedicated corps of volunteers does everything from dress, bathe and toilet the patients to prepare meals, clean the house and cut the grass. Volunteer roles can be tailored to suit individuals and groups. At present, the home seeks the assistance of someone in the community to help with grant writing on a volunteer basis.

There is also an extensive “wish list’’ for people who would like to donate in other ways. The home is always in need of toiletries for residents (shampoo, shaving cream, sanitary wipes, etc.); kitchen, cleaning and office supplies; gift cards to retailers like Target, Walmart and Wegmans and miscellaneous goods, like sheets, towels and reusable bed pads.

“There are a lot of people out there who don’t know about us and don’t know what we do,’’ Shields says.


More Info?

Pathway Home of the Finger Lakes is at 1529 state Route 414, Seneca Falls. For more information, call 315-257-0307 and visit http://pathwayhome.org

Photo: Running the Pathway Home of the Finger Lakes is Assistant Director Beth Boehnke (left) and Executive Director Martha “Martie” Shields.

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