Fisher Home ready to reopen after fire

  • Anthony Larocca installs a new window at Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst on Saturday, Jan. 7, 2016. Gazette Staff/STEPHANIE MURRAY

  • Construction continues at Hospice of the Fisher Home in Amherst, Saturday. Gazette Staff/STEPHANIE MURRAY

Monday, January 09, 2017

AMHERST — The Hospice of the Fisher Home is nearly ready to reopen after a devastating July fire that destroyed much of the building’s roof and displaced six patients.

The reopening will return a rare resource to Hampshire County. According to Executive Director Elizabeth Weissbach, Hospice of the Fisher Home is the only 24-hour hospice care home in the Pioneer Valley. The cozy, one-story home has nine beds and prides itself on flexibility when it comes to making patients and their families comfortable, Weissbach said.

The 24-hour hospice care home at 1165 North Pleasant St. will debut a new roof, freshly renovated rooms and new, energy-efficient windows during an open house Monday, Jan. 30. The event will feature tours, information sessions and light refreshments. It will begin at 10 a.m. and end at 5 p.m.

Beyond physical improvements to the nonprofit home, Weissbach said she is happiest that the staff and volunteers will be together under one roof after six long months apart.

“They were pulled apart after years of working under one roof together,” Weissbach said. “It is a work of love. The physical repairs, that’s the outer shell. What is at the inner core is love, compassion and caring … It makes you want to be here.”

Within hours of the July 22 fire, all six residents of the home were moved to New England Health Center in Sunderland where the Hospice of the Fisher Home staff were able to continue care.

Though the fire was devastating, it has made the community more aware of the home’s at-home care program, Weissbach said. Hospice of the Fisher Home provides the same hospice care to patients in their own homes, which Weissbach said many people are not aware of.

There are now 10 patients in the at-home care program, Weissbach said.

“The program has taken off since the fire,” Weissbach said.

If a patient in the at-home care program is better-suited for the home’s 24-hour care services later in treatment, that person can transition seamlessly to the Fisher Home, Weissbach said. The patients receive care and support from the same trusted staff members.

Bill Appleton, a member of the Hospice of the Fisher Home board of directors, said he was stunned by staff members’ selflessness and compassion. At the first staff meeting after the fire, only one question was asked about money, he said.

The staff was far more concerned, Appleton said, about the well-being of the displaced patients.

“It’s a calling, and the staff heeds that calling,” Weissbach said. “It’s not a business.”

The fire damaged some 40 percent of the roof of the building and the sprinkler system caused the ceilings to cave in overnight, Weissbach and Appleton explained. Additionally, the building had smoke damage.

For six months, Appleton has coordinated the reconstruction effort led by Complete Restoration Solutions in Chicopee. With insurance money and a $35,000 grant from the Beveridge Family Foundation, they were able to replace the entire roof, which was dated and had problems with leakage even before the fire.

As a nonprofit, Hospice of the Fisher Home relies on donations and grant money. Weissbach had been writing grant applications for a new roof before the fire, she said.

Appleton and Weissbach said that Evan and Cinda Jones of W.D. Cowls were incredibly generous with discounts on building materials for the reconstruction. They also gave a discount on new wood cabinets with slide-out shelving for the the kitchen.

“The kitchen is absolutely beautiful. The star attraction is the cherry cabinets. Cowls came through with a sale price,” Weissbach said. “We could never have afforded those.”

“If we sound indebted to them, we are,” Appleton added.

Additionally, the patient rooms have been repainted in soothing hospice-recommended blues and greens. Fresh carpeting and vinyl flooring were installed, and a storage area has been converted into a coffee bar.

Weissbach said she looks forward to the open house and getting the home up and running again.

“It is as if everyone who comes here is a loved one. It comes naturally,” Weissbach said.

Stephanie Murray can be reached at stephaniemur@umass.edu