Visiting nurses come ‘home’

Ten years after leaving the Comstock Community Center offices that had been severely outgrown, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County celebrated a return to Wilton with a groundbreaking ceremony at its new building on Aug. 14. The nursing agency expects to occupy the its new home at 22 Danbury Road in February or March of 2019.

Sharon Bradley, the president and CEO of the agency, explained to the two dozen or so people who attended the ceremony it had resided “for decades in Wilton.” Thus, she said, “we have a long and rich history in the community … being school nurses, public health nurses and bringing home care and hospice to hundreds of Wiltonians each day [here] and in our surrounding communities.”

“When this building is completed … we will have a wonderful, welcoming, inviting location. The accessibility of the building, the visibility of the building, and the great comfort of the building will be a wonderful addition to our community who will be most welcome here for our programs, our educational sessions, and also a wonderful location for our staff and volunteers to work together and improve our services in the community,” she said.

She offered special thanks to the agency’s board of directors, the board’s building committee, its finance committee, attorneys Dave Pitney and Pat Sullivan of Cohen & Wolf, Pustola Associates, interior designer Elizabeth Hourihan, agency staff, and Bankwell. “It would not have been possible for us to move forward without the support of Bankwell,” she said.

Bradley introduced First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice who expressed “how happy we are that Visiting Nurses has returned — we’re thrilled you’re back … We’re thrilled to have you in this building,” she said of the former Hitchcock Furniture store that has been vacant for years. “It needed someone to come and love it and embrace it and so it is just a perfect match.”

State Sen. Toni Boucher, also in attendance, described the agency as “an organization of people and staff and volunteers that go out and help people.” Over the years she has heard from “friends and neighbors that couldn’t do without the services [offered] at their most vulnerable time … It has been a necessary growth and an invaluable service to all of us. I can’t thank you enough. It’s going to be outstanding for our community.”

State Rep. Gail Lavielle said the agency’s move “is truly a blessing for our community … This is not just any business. Most businesses you give your service to your customers, you ask your customers how it was and you act accordingly. There’s a couple things that’s really different about this business. One is that when people come to you the first time, they never had this experience, they don’t know what they are doing, they don’t know what they are looking for and they are scared. The second reason is that the people you serve, sometimes they’re not in a position to give feedback. They are not in any condition to the let the families know how things went … It’s very emotional, and having a space where people can come in and see the very people they are going to be dealing with and talking with them personally and be in that homelike atmosphere is absolutely vital.”

Because the agency knows all that, Lavielle said, “you have worked so very hard all these years to be out there in the community, to make sure people know you, to make sure that they trust you before they ever need you. That has been an enormous gift to this entire region. I know that everyone so appreciates it.”

Although the agency purchased the building for $1.4 million in March, Bradley said it has been working on the location for a year. In addition to determining the building’s suitability, she met with the building’s residential neighbors at Fawn Ridge as well. The agency’s application to renovate the building has been approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

“We’re taking the building down to the skeleton,” Ken Edgar, the agency’s board chairman, said, standing in the 8,400-square-foot building that had been gutted to its frame. “It will be energy efficient and people friendly,” he said. The design includes a welcoming reception area, a conference room with fireplace, space that can be used for clinics as well as other events, and office space.

The architect is Bruce Hollis of Pustola Associates of Naugatuck, which is also handling the construction.

Helping to give the building the homelike atmosphere that everyone spoke of is Elizabeth Hourihan, an interior designer from Weston.

With V-groove paneling painted white and gray floors, she said the design will not only be homey but sophisticated. The goal is a “comfortable environment that doesn’t look like a typical health facility,” she said. “It’s important to give people a sense that it’s not a government building.”

A non-profit community organization for more than 100 years, Visiting Nurse & Hospice of Fairfield County provides professional nursing and support services, senior care management, physical rehabilitation, health education, community wellness programs and compassionate hospice and palliative care for adults and children in Wilton and throughout Fairfield County. For the last 10 years it has been headquartered at iPark, 761 Main Avenue in Norwalk. The agency’s lease is up in February, which prompted the year-long search for a space it can call its own.