Comfort Care Homes: An Exceptional End-Of-Life Resource for Patients and Their Families

Bethany in front of Gateway House of Peace

By Bethany Gonyea, MS

All of us live with the unknown of how our last days will unfold. We can plan for the inevitable, but life has a way of unwinding differently than we had hoped. People may find themselves at the end of life without the finances or family to care for their greatest needs. More people face such a crisis each day, as 10,000 boomers turn 65 each day, and all boomers will be over 65 by 2030.

Comfort care homes, often renovated private homes with 24/7 non-medical comfort-based supportive staff, have been slowly emerging to help individuals who need help in their final days.

Comfort care homes are not hospice homes, although they carry a similar mission. Comfort care homes are often founded by an inspired community leader who arranges for a home with only two beds and a team of trained caregivers and volunteers. These services are provided free of charge or on a sliding scale to the families. Not only do comfort care homes offer a direct supportive level of care, but they also provide meals for residents, guests, and their families.

The individuals who serve at these homes are nothing short of angels on earth. They are often not paid much and are willing to hold residents close to their hearts as they take care of their increasing physical needs as they progress toward transition.

As the Executive Director of a comfort care home, Gateway House Of Peace in Ballston Spa, NY, I feel blessed to serve in such a capacity even though the obstacles are formidable. A recent study performed by our board discovered that 17.5% of comfort care homes in New York State closed due to lack of funding and support. Yet, as a society, we urgently need more of these homes, not less.

When we see a middle-aged child struggling to manage teenage children, job demands, and home maintenance while providing a safe home and medical care for their terminal parent, the weight of responsibility, along with the emotional turmoil of permanently losing a parent, often becomes unbearable. It is common to have families appear at our door exhausted from offering extensive care and yet still deeply conflicted about “leaving” their loved ones at our comfort care home.

Unfortunately, most of New York State does not have any comfort homes. However, some are clustered in Rochester and the Capital District, and a few others scattered throughout the state. If you feel called to start a comfort care home, know that it can be a difficult journey but incredibly rewarding.. It is truly sacred work!

If your community is fortunate enough to have a comfort care home, please reach out and ask how you can help because there are always numerous needs to be met. There is something for everyone to offer within their comfort zone. They say it takes a village to raise a child into this world. We are often amazed how it also takes a village to usher people out of this world.

We all wish ourselves and our loved ones a “good death” and comfort care homes provide the best possible scenario for this to be possible. They are independently run, so they often have the freedom and focus on facilitating death with great dignity and grace while simultaneously providing emotional support for the family.

As staff, one daily job perk we receive is that because we watch people transition under many different circumstances, our work reminds us to keep short accounts with people and live each day as if it was our last, which helps us deeply appreciate our lives more. This reverence for the preciousness of life seems to draw the most good-hearted people, and I am so blessed to work with all of them

As a society, we need more of these homes to perform this noble work.

If you are interested in learning more about comfort homes, please visit: https://www.omegahomenetwork.org.

Bethany Gonyea is the Executive Director at Gateway House Of Peace can be reached at: GatewayHouseOfPeace.org

EOLCNY provides advocacy, education, counseling, and support to expand end of life options and improve care for New Yorkers.