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Calvary Hospital – Hospice Celebrates Its Tenth Year Of Service in Brooklyn

by Marie Elena Giossi

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Dr. Irina Makarevich, medical director at Calvary’s Hospital’s Brooklyn Campus, a 25-bed facility located on the third floor of Lutheran Medical Center, Sunset Park, checks up on one of her patients. (Image courtesy Calvary Hospital.)

A decade ago, Brooklynite Linda Mollo-Holmes wasn’t thinking about Calvary Hospital but hospital administrators were already thinking of her and thousands of other Brooklyn families who could benefit from having Calvary’s renowned hospice and palliative care services close to home.

This fall, Calvary Hospital is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the opening of its 25-bed Brooklyn campus at Lutheran Medical Center, Sunset Park, the state’s first “hospital within a hospital.”

Patients at the Brooklyn satellite receive the same high quality care as patients at the hospital’s 200-bed main campus in the Bronx.

Founded in 1899, Calvary Hospital is the nation’s only fully accredited acute care specialty hospital devoted exclusively to providing palliative care to adults in the advanced stages of cancer. More than 5,700 patients are cared for annually by Calvary’s inpatient, outpatient, hospice, nursing home hospice and home care services.

“Ten years ago, we were delighted to expand our special care to the people of Brooklyn,” said Frank A. Calamari, president and chief executive officer, Calvary Hospital. “We are proud that it (the Brooklyn satellite) was at capacity almost since the day it opened, and we have now cared for nearly 4,000 patients and family members there.”

The Brooklyn satellite also coordinates home hospice care for the terminally ill in their homes and in several nursing homes, as well as free bereavement support groups for adults, children and teenagers.

Through the years, Calamari noted that the hospital has received generous support from individuals and organizations, especially Circle of Hope Cancer Foundation, a non-profit that raises funds in support of Calvary.

Michael Holmes and Linda Mollo-Holmes in August, 2008.

The Calvary campus in Brooklyn was a “blessing” for Dyker Heights resident Linda Mollo-Holmes, her husband of 22 years, Michael, and their family.
Two days before Christmas, 2008, Michael, 55, suffered a heart attack. By the time he was found, he’d sustained a prolonged period without oxygen. Left in a persistent vegetative state, he survived by means of mechanical ventilation and artificial hydration and nutrition for 20 months. In August, 2010, the family elected to remove the ventilator.

“They told me he could live 10 minutes or 10 years. He lived seven-and-a-half months at Calvary,” Mollo-Holmes said.

While Calvary has built its reputation upon caring for cancer patients, the hospital also admits a small percentage of patients, like Michael, with non-cancerous terminal conditions. That news put Mollo-Holmes’ heart at ease. She didn’t want Michael languishing away in a nursing home.

“As soon as I walked through the doors, I knew it was the place,” she said. She put Michael’s name on a waiting list, praying a bed would open in Brooklyn. While the family would have taken a bed in the Bronx, the travel time and distance would have meant more time on the road and fewer moments with Michael.

“We put in our request on a Wednesday and by Sunday, we were able to bring him over by ambulance,” she said. His room overlooked the baseball field where he played as a child, when he and Linda were classmates at P.S. 140.

Mollo-Holmes, now retired, was still working as a junior high school teacher by day, running home to shower and keep the house in order before heading to the hospital, where she spent each night at her husband’s side. While he was given the palliative care he needed, she received moral support from the nurses and doctors, especially Dr. Irina Makarevich, medical director at the satellite, as well as other families keeping vigil.

“They became my daily family. We laughed together, we cried together, we prayed together,” she said. “Because it’s only 25 beds, the families get to know each other. When it’s your time, the other families come in and support you.”

A parishioner at St. Ephrem’s Church, Dyker Heights, she was grateful that the staff tended to Michael’s spiritual needs as well as her own. She was able to receive Communion every day and attend Mass on weekends. One of three women religious on staff – Sisters Alice Alter, R.S.H.M.; Theresa Doran, P.B.V.M.; and Marianne Kelly, R.S.M. – “came every morning to start the day with prayer and visit each patient individually.”

Mollo-Holmes is grateful she chose Calvary for Michael, who passed away in March. “At a time when you think, ‘Where should I go,’ or ‘What should I do,’” she said, “Calvary is the answer.” She only wishes the site was bigger so that more families could benefit from the Calvary experience.

Expanding Scope of Service
Rather than expanding its space, Calvary plans to continue expanding its scope of services — which already includes home care, hospice, nursing home hospice services through the Calvary@Home program — in the borough and surrounding communities.

Nurse Cathie Gearity, R.N. (Image courtesy Calvary Hospital.)

Thirty-three year nursing veteran Cathie Gearity, R.N., has been working with Calvary@Home patients for almost a year.

“As a home hospice nurse, my role is case manager,” Gearity explained. She works to advocate for the patient, manage pain needs and help families care for loved ones navigating their end of life journey at home.

One of her most recent patients was an octogenarian with pancreatic cancer. The woman’s daughters had medical backgrounds and were insistent on prolonging their mother’s life with exceptional means. The mother, however, asked Gearity to tell her daughters to let go and let her go peacefully.

While Gearity was assigned to care for the patient, she found that her real purpose was to help the daughters “face what their mother’s wishes were. They did eventually accept her choice and that’s when she finally died.”

Gearity feels a tremendous responsibility to her patients and their families and does everything she can to meet their physical and emotional as well as cultural and spiritual needs. When her responsibility to the patient has been fulfilled, she’s grateful that she can refer their loved ones to the bereavement services Calvary provides.

A member of Our Lady of Angels parish, Bay Ridge, she believes her Catholic faith gives her the strength to handle the “powerful emotions” that arise in her nursing ministry.

“Every morning I say the Nurses’ Prayer to keep my mind open, my heart open and my hands free to care for my patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs. By the end of the day, I feel I have done God’s work,” she said.

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