Last year at this time, it was a picnic area. Now the expanded rehabilitation center of Catholic Health's McAuley Residence provides physical, occupational and speech therapy to injured and ailing Western New Yorkers. It shows that wonderful things can happen with patience and hard work.
The Kenmore facility added 40,000 square feet to its existing center, which now houses a state-of-the-art gymnasium, new dining and patio areas, as well as newly remodeled nursing units. Bishop Richard J. Malone blessed the new addition during an Oct. 27 ceremony.
The building opened in 1992 to accommodate the very institutional manner of skilled nursing. In 2003, it expanded its care to sub-acute patients. At this time, the facility shifted to create a home-style atmosphere.
"We began to embrace many of the culture changes that centered on implementing household models. During this time we started to facelift all the public spaces facility-wide and built home-style serving kitchens," said Joyce Markiewicz, executive vice president of Catholic Health, president and CEO of Home & Community Based Care. "At one of the first meetings that I ever attended at Catholic health, the administrator at McAuley Residence stood up with tremendous pride and she announced to a room full of people that you could now smell toast cooking in the building. ... What other smell is so reminiscent of home than the smell of toast?"
The facility now looks much like an upscale hotel rather than a hospital. The gym is full of fun looking exercise balls and laptop computers. The renovation includes a central commercial kitchen added in the basement, a modified nurses station, and open concept living room spaces.
In 2014, Catholic Health began planning updates to residents' rooms and bathing spas, and expanding of the existing rehab space. This is the largest renovation since the building was constructed.
The crowd of therapists, doctors, and a Sister of Mercy who gathered heard from Mark Messenger, one of the first patients in the new center. On July 22, Messenger shattered his pelvis, broke his tailbone and four ribs, shattered his shoulder, and hurt his leg in a serious tree cutting accident. He came to McAuley after a week in the Erie County Medical Center.
"I was a mess," he said, now standing on his own two legs and looking healthy. "I was not a happy camper. I was used to doing things on my own and my world had been completely turned upside down. That was hard. It was hard on the physical. It was hard on the mental. I'm like, 'What do I do now? How do I get back to where I wanted to be in my life?' It was certainly a journey."
His injuries were so severe that he could not use a wheelchair and required to have physical therapy in his room. "It was a four-person effort to roll me to one side, and I would scream and swear and do all kinds of terrible things to people. Roll me on the other side and do the same thing again," Messenger recalled.
With the help of physical therapists, Messenger progressed into a wheelchair and was able to use the main gym. "I remember distinctly sitting on that table right there," Messenger said, pointing to an exercise table the size of a twin bed, "and we'd go through this physical therapy, and they would pause. 'What's he doing now? He's going to come up with something crazy that's going to hurt.' It always did hurt, but it felt good though."
"The facility is wonderful. There are different stations here, but it is the people here who make it so special," he said, name checking the therapists and family members who helped in his recovery. "Awesome facility, but even better are the people who work here."
Bishop Malone said a prayer before sprinkling holy water throughout the new addition, asking that the rehab center becomes a place of "strengthening, healing and comfort."
"We are, in a very real sense, God's coworkers, as we follow in the footsteps of Catherine McAuley, the Sisters of Mercy and the founding congregations of Catholic Health's ministries, we do so united by our mission, our vision, our values, and God's call to serve all people with special consideration for the poor and the vulnerable. This residence and new gym is a place where the associates of Catholic Health can live out their vocation to the health care ministry of our Church by revealing the healing love of Jesus to those in need and inspired by their faith to lead the transformation of heath care in our communities," the bishop said.
Bishop Malone; Markiewicz; Susan Keegan, site manager; Tom Gleason, Dr. Cindy Romanowski, medical director of orthopedic rehabilitation services; Mark Sullivan, executive vice president/COO of Catholic Health; Assemblyman Robin Schimminger and Tonawanda Town Supervisor Joseph Emminger took place in a ribbon cutting.
Along with therapy tables and parallel bars, the gym holds a model car to help people get in, and out of, a full kitchen to assess if patients will be able to feed themselves when at home.
"We have them practice what they would normally have to do at home, so we can assess their safety and how independent they would be managing themselves at home," explained Cara Witnauer, occupational therapist.
The McAuley Residence, named after the founder of the Sisters of Mercy, has the first "green roof" in Catholic Health. The rooftop garden is self-sustaining and gives residents a pleasant view.
"We try to introduce as much health care and healing elements that are evidence-based. Colors, textures, anything that helps the healing process," explained Gary Constantino, system director for facility planning, design, construction on corporate level.
The center sees victims of accidents, strokes, joint replacements and chronic illnesses. The unit now has 80 beds for patients who may see therapy sessions twice a day. It is common for a patient to go through physical therapy, then occupational therapy, before returning home.