By Alicia Doyle

The Writer
Specializing in Good News
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Many find comfort at Mary Health of the Sick


Susan Weininger / Special to The Star: Mother Lourdes Lara enjoys spending time in one of three gardens on the grounds of the Mary Health of the Sick skilled nursing facility.

As people age and lose the ability to care for themselves, they are faced with a significant loss of freedom and choice. And due to their illness or disability, the elderly and frail often spend significant parts of their lives in bed or in wheelchairs.

At Mary Health of the Sick Hospital, a nonprofit skilled nursing facility in Newbury Park, staff members work to expand the quality of life for residents by providing as much choice and independence as possible.

“This place — even though there are many sad moments — is a very happy place,” said Jodi Rupp, administrator. “When someone dies, the peace in that room is indescribable.”

Serving 61 residents from 58 to 103 years old, Mary Health “has dedicated and caring physicians, nursing teams, allied healthcare providers, volunteers and donors,” said Kathy Tamashiro, development director.

Located on eight acres of landscaped grounds with gardens, koi ponds, waterfalls, flower beds, trees and a view of the hills, Mary Health offers compassionate care during the final stages of residents’ lives, regardless of social class, race, religion or illness.

“Our residents require 24-hour skilled nursing care, and all need assistance with everything from eating to bathing,” said Tamashiro, adding that visitors are welcome 24 hours a day, as long as they don’t interfere with medical care. “Most residents have some form of dementia and suffer from the effects of age and degenerative bone, joint and muscular disease. Many have acute or terminal illnesses.”

Mary Health is also home to 15 Catholic nuns who live on-site. Many are licensed nurses fulfilling their mission to care for the sick and elderly.

Peace at passing

“The normal fear of the moment of death vanishes because the resident knows we pray for and with them,” said Mother Superior Lourdes Lara, emphasizing that the facility serves residents of all religions. “No matter what the belief, we all know we go back to our creator. As Mary did at the foot of the cross, seeing her son Jesus dying, we try to imitate her by being at the bedside of the dying. They are not alone in their journey.”

If a resident has a religious preference, “we call either a Catholic priest, a pastor, rabbi or whoever they request,” Lara said. “When we know death is near, the sisters and staff stay with the resident. We assure the dying that they are not alone. I would like to say that 99 percent of our residents have had a very peaceful death and some even die with a smile. This is a big comfort and consolation for the family members.”

The history of Mary Health of the Sick Convalescent and Nursing Hospital begins in 1851 with the founding of the Servants of Mary, Ministers to the Sick, in Madrid by Sister Maria Soledad Torres Acosta, who was declared a saint by Pope Paul VI in 1970.

According to the facility’s website, the nuns came to the United States in 1914, establishing their first convent in New Orleans. In 1928, they arrived in California.

Thirty years later, Cardinal James Francis McIntyre, archbishop of the Los Angeles Archdiocese, told the provincial superior, Mother Acacia Lasa, that he wanted to build a hospital with an attached convent to serve sick and convalescing women.

“Since the very beginning, the mission has focused on caring for the sick and elderly,” said Tamashiro, noting that Mary Health of the Sick has served more than 1,400 residents since it opened June 20, 1964.

Since then, Mary Health, which is certified by Medicare and Medi-Cal, has been dedicated to providing services that contribute to the physical, psychological, social and spiritual well-being of residents. Accommodations include semiprivate and private rooms, all featuring TVs with individual pillow speakers as well as telephones. Patients are encouraged to bring their favorite comforter or pillows to make the room feel more like home.

Range of activities offered

“Understanding what the resident enjoys most takes place following admission,” Tamashiro said. The hospital’s activity and social services departments work with the nursing team to create activities a resident enjoyed before, such as painting, reading books by a favorite author, or listening to a particular genre of music.

Some of the most popular group activities include educational presentations, fitness sessions, singing, holiday celebrations and weekly musical performances provided by volunteers.

Mary Health is independent and receives no financial support from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. In 2011, the hospital will focus on creating outreach programs and developing a stronger community presence, Rupp said. The facility also will continue to raise funds throughout the year to purchase new equipment, including hospital beds, wheelchairs and physical therapy equipment.

Patients pay for their care in a variety of ways, including Medicare and Medi-Cal. According to Tamashiro, “because Medi-Cal does not cover the full cost of care, we must raise funds annually to bridge the gap between Medi-Cal’s reimbursement level and the true costs to cover care. Mary Health’s donations make up a small percentage of the hospital’s total income.

The sisters are licensed nurses who work in the hospital as charge nurses and medication nurses. The Servants of Mary, who work for free, devote their lives to the service of God and to the service of residents, without remuneration, resulting in a high level of care and services.”

Without donations, Rupp said, “Mary Health wouldn’t be able to do what we do. We truly are a gem of a place but we’re not widely known.”

Mary Health of the Sick Hospital is at 929 Theresa Drive, Newbury Park. For more information, contact Tamashiro at 498-3644 or visit http://www.maryhealth.com.

© 2011 Ventura County Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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