Clorinda Bonaccorso watched her sister’s face as the hospital palliative team delivered the grim prognosis. Joanne Seguino’s stage four lung cancer, which had metastasized to her liver, was not responding to chemotherapy in the way that they had hoped — and she had two options.
The first was to continue treatment, which would confine her to bed and give her a maximum of five months to live. The second was to let the disease run its course.
Ms. Seguino locked eyes with Ms. Bonaccorso. “You know what to do,” she said.
“I saw the doctor in charge, and I said, ‘My sister wants to go to hospice — East End Hospice, Kanas Center, no other,’” Ms. Bonaccorso recalled. “When she got there, they were remarkable.”
She paused. “They were just remarkable — again.”
A year earlier, Ms. Bonaccorso’s aunt had spent her final days at Kanas Center for Hospice Care on Quiogue, the only in-patient facility of its kind in the region. And the year before that, Ms. Seguino’s husband died at the center, too — in the same room where she would take her last breaths, on July 2, 2019, just three weeks after her diagnosis.
“It was very hard because it was so sudden and unexpected,” Ms. Bonaccorso said. “When the person that you loved passes away and you walk away from Hospice, they do not walk away from you. Hospice is there to help in any way possible. That is something that is very, very important. It’s nice to know that you’re not forgotten, and I have not forgotten anything they have done for my family.”
Operated by East End Hospice, the Kanas Center marked its fifth anniversary last month, having served over 1,000 patients with end-of-life care since first opening its doors on March 14, 2016, as a state-of-the-art facility decades in the making, according to Medical Director Dr. Louis Avvento.
“It was 10-plus years before we finally had the dream come true. It was a long road, a long road,” he said. “But nobody ever gave up because we knew the value of what this residence meant to us and our patients.”
The concept for a hospice center began percolating among staff, volunteers and supporters in the early 2000s, long before Mary Crosby joined East End Hospice as a field nurse in 2014. By that time, planning stages for the 11,000-square-foot facility were well underway, and she could already imagine what it would mean for the South Fork.
“For me, having seen firsthand the experience of someone at home who really can’t be cared for at home, and having to go to the hospital, was really challenging,” she said. “So I think even from my first month here, I could see the vision and the importance of having a hospice in-patient unit, where we could bring our own patients so they wouldn’t have to go to the hospital. We could provide the medical care that you can receive in a hospital, but in a completely different environment. And that is exactly what the center has done.”
Thousands of donations — ranging from $5 to the $2 million given by philanthropists John and Elaine Kanas, for whom the building is named — fueled a capital campaign that raised the nearly $8 million needed to build the center, said Ms. Crosby, who is now the organization’s president and CEO.
In early 2015, dozens of staff members and volunteers signed their names to the steel frame’s final girder, which remains exposed and visible from the building’s attic to this day — a testament to the fortitude it took to realize their goal.
“We struggle sometimes in hospice, just as any industry, with certain misconceptions about what we do and what hospice is and what it means,” Ms. Crosby said. “And so, likewise, in building this building, there were concerns about ambulances coming in and out all day, and the noise and the chaos that you might associate with a hospital, and those myths were dispelled quite quickly.
“Now having been open for five years, I think anyone who lives in this area would tell you that we’re just nestled into the landscape,” she continued. “It is calm and quiet here, and is not a disturbance to the surrounding community.”
Set on 6 acres of wooded land bordered by the Aspatuck River, the natural light-filled Kanas Center features eight patient suites, each equipped with a private bath, patio, sitting area and accommodations for family and friends to spend the night, should they choose. The grounds also include multiple gardens and walking paths, with benches for rest and contemplation.
“It’s something very beautiful, a place where really beautiful, spiritual transformations happen all the time,” Ms. Crosby said. “It is that place between this world and the next.”
Each suite houses an extension of the center’s permanent art collection, largely comprised of pieces from both donors and the local artists themselves — among them April Gornik, Dan Rizzie, Fulvio Massi, William King, Connie Fox, Hans Van De Bovenkamp, Helen and Claus Hoie, Eric Ernst, and Mary Abbott, who was a patient at Kanas Center.
“As it turned out, when Mary was wheeled into Kanas days before she died, this painting was there in front of her before she entered her suite,” curator Arlene Bujese said. “All told, for me, this was truly a labor of love and, of course, as they always are, the artists were there for us.”
This week, Ms. Bujese hung the final piece of the collection, “Prayers” by Darlene Charneco, in a space she held all this time while waiting for the perfect piece from her.
“It had to be small and work with the other pieces in the lobby, and it is just right,” she said. “The artists and collectors were so generous, and this left available much needed funds for patient needs.”
Specifically designed for end-of-life care, the Kanas Center offers round-the-clock clinical staffing and access to physicians, hospice aides, social workers, bereavement counselors, chaplains, and other specialists — all of the services expected in a hospital, but in a more intimate and home-like setting with a 24-hour visitation policy that includes pets.
“We really make an effort to meet folks where they are, and if we hear from a patient that they love horses and wish they could see one, one more time, the staff here at the Kanas Center makes that happen,” said Emily Madsen, director of planned and major gifts. “It’s really quite an incredible place.”
While East End Hospice — which has treated terminally ill patients primarily in their own homes since 1991 — employs 150 volunteers as a whole, many take shifts at the Kanas Center, assisting with individualized care and companionship.
“We are so grateful for our volunteers. They are really such an integral part of our team,” Ms. Crosby said. “I think in some organizations, volunteers add a little extra here and there. For us, they run this operation. They’re a big part of what we do and were sorely missed in those early stages of the pandemic, and we’re glad to have a lot of volunteers back to help us through this next phase.”
The Kanas Center proved essential for East End Hospice as it navigated the COVID-19 crisis, enacting safety protocols that allowed restricted patient visitation, especially after so many struggled with loneliness and isolation during prior hospital stays, Dr. Avvento said.
“Sometimes their family members had not seen them, except via Zoom, for as long as a month,” Ms. Crosby said. “So for us to be able to reunite those families, even if it was for only days or weeks, was I’ll say probably the most meaningful experience of my career thus far in hospice. It really touched so many lives and we were happy to be able to do it.”
Outside of palliative care, East End Hospice extends itself as a bereavement resource through counseling, Camp Good Grief for children and teenagers, and by simply keeping its doors open for those who wish to visit the grounds.
“There are spaces here where we really do invite people back because we recognize that for many families, this is that pivotal place where you can find peace and comfort, and you want to return here,” Ms. Madsen said. “It’s the space that you really identify with those final days or hours. So being able to come back and reflect on that is very much an important part of what this space offers to families after a patient has passed.”
Nine months after her sister died, Ms. Bonaccorso also said goodbye to her mother at Kanas Center. Some days, she doesn’t know which loss she is mourning, she said. The pain is intertwined.
“Now it’s hitting,” she said. “I have Hospice social workers checking up on me and making sure that I’m getting through everything. I really appreciate them.”
On April 17, the one-year anniversary of her mother’s death, Ms. Bonaccorso said she will visit the Kanas Center’s donor wall and rock garden, where the names of her brother-in-law, aunt, sister and mother are etched into the stone — preserved for eternity.
Here, she feels closest to them.
“That’s where my family is. Their spirit is there,” she said. “It’s the only place, really, that I can come, sit, think, remember, but it’s not in a bad way. It’s in a good way because of how everybody was treated with respect and honor and love and care.”
As published in the Southampton Press