Rocmaura celebrates 40 years of caring

By Erin Dwyer

Ninety-two-year-old Louise Bromfield sits in her bed at Rocmaura Nursing Home, enjoying the company of two Shelties who have come to visit.

Her eyes are bright and it’s clear she enjoys their company.

“It’s nice that the animals can come,” she said.

The dogs belong to her daughter, who regularly visits Rocmaura – a home that has been caring for Saint John area seniors like Bromfield for 40 years.

For Lynn Wack, the nursing home has provided over the last five years a loving, home-like environment for her elderly mother, and has given her peace of mind knowing her mother is in safe hands.

“I think it’s a wonderful place,” Wack said. “It’s reassuring – that’s the word I’d use...You know when they are here that they are being well looked after and getting proper meals.”

Bromfield is one of 150 seniors at Rocmaura, a nursing home that has been a leading provider of care for seniors in the Saint John region since it opened its doors on Dec. 16, 1972, replacing the former Mater Misercordiae Home, which the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception operated in the city for 84 years.

To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Rocmaura is holding several activities over the ensuing months, including an open house on Jan. 18. It will use that event to honour some of its long-time employees, review its history, and acknowledge many people who have had a relationship with the home over the last four decades.

Its executive director is also hoping the open house will raise the nursing home’s profile in the community, and generate support for its many fundraisers throughout the year.

“We are linked to our community in many different ways, through our association with the Sisters, community groups and past residents,” said executive director Sheana Mohra. “We want to raise that profile as well.”

Rocmaura Nursing Home can trace its roots back to 1888 when the Diocese of Saint John erected the first nursing home – the Mater Misercordiae Home, a 78-bed facility operated by the Sisters of Charity of the Immaculate Conception.

Since their founding in 1854, the Sisters had opened orphanages and schools and cared for the poor in Saint John and beyond. But they soon began to recognize the growing need among the elderly.

The MM Home, located on Sydney Street, opened in 1888 with 78 beds. But with the need outgrowing the building’s capacity over the years, the nursing home was moved in 1958 to a larger one on Waterloo Street.

By the late 1960s, however, costs to maintain the Waterloo building were becoming prohibitive and the Sisters began looking at options. They opted for the construction of a new building, which would house 150 residents.

Rocmaura – the Gaelic translation of ‘Rock of Mary’ – finally opened in 1972. Today, it houses residents of all denominations in its four distinct courts, including a 24-bed Alzheimer unit, which was added in 1998 to offer a safe and secure environment for those suffering from the disease.

It has 40 single rooms and 55 double rooms.

Joe and Betty Fisher, who have been married 56 years, sit in the single room they share, with photos of their family hanging on the walls and trinkets and other memorabilia from their life adorning their wardrobes. They have lived at the home for six months, coming to Rocmaura at the urging of their son, who was becoming concerned about their well-being and their ability to live in their home.

“It was more our son who decided we would be safer here,” said Joe Fisher.

Said Mohra: “When people come to live with us now they are so very frail. There is no way they could be cared for at home. What we provide for them is a sense of safety, security and caring in a home-like atmosphere, where they can leave their loved ones and know that they are loved and cared for and are safe, and they don’t have to have worries about their safety, and their medical and emotional needs are meet.”

The home offers daily activities and programming, designed by recreation therapist Pamela Clark and tailored for the cognitive levels of the residents. For example, the residents bake, they make crafts and they go for outings -- like their recent tour of the city’s Christmas light. They play bingo and they take in musical performances offered at the home by groups and musicians in the city.

“We modify everything so every resident can do it,” Clark said.

Mohra said staff at the nursing home are a huge part of what makes Rocmaura a home away from home.

“The work that people do here is a mission,” she said. “It’s not a regular job. It something people do and they stay here for long periods of time with us because it gets into your soul and it’s definitely something you do for the betterment of people.

“Our building is old as far as the structures of nursing homes go,” she added, “but we are still sought after because the atmosphere here is just so wonderful, the interaction between staff and staff, and staff and residents is lovely. It’s just great to see.”

Besides the Alzheimer’s unit, other renovations were carried out in 1998, including the addition of new multi-use lounges on both floors, the expansion of main lounges on both floors, the upgrade of tub rooms and more.

“But we are due for them again, aesthetically,” said Mohra.

In 1993, the Rocmaura Foundation was created to raise funds for upgrades and improvements not covered by government funding. Today, it’s working to raise an additional $375,000 for its latest project. It wants to build new wardrobes in the rooms, giving residents a place to store their personal items. The foundation has already raised $225,000 and completed 48 wardrobes for residents living in Garden Court.

“Now we are working on the second phase, which would be to build these wardrobes on Hopewell Court,” said Sally Cummings, the foundation’s coordinator. “It’s a big project that will probably take another four years to complete.

Added Mohra: “The wardrobes give them a sense of having something that is theirs, where they can display their things, and makes their room neater and tidier and safer in many ways.”

The foundation has various fundraisers throughout the year, including a direct mail campaign, the Auxiliary Christmas Bazaar, and a curling funspiel, being held this year on Feb. 2 at the Carleton Curling Rink. It’s also holding a Mothers Day Draw in May, which will give away a diamond ring, a hotel stay and a dinner out, flowers, and a spa experience. Tickets are $10 and on sale around the city or from the foundation office.

Each year, the foundation also holds a spring fling, and a gala dinner and auction, which will take place this year on Sept. 21 at the Saint John Trade and Convention Centre and will be chaired by Pat Gallagher with Tim Isaac as the honourary chair and auctioneer.

“The government provides the necessities, but the extras are where the community can come in and help us to provide that home away from home for the residents,” Cummings said.

Members of the community can also make donations through memorials at the various funeral homes, or through bequeaths in their wills, she said. In addition to funding, the home is always looking for volunteers.

“People can help out financially, but they can also help out with their expertise and their time,” Cummings said. “We need board members... We really need people who are interested in that kind of work, leading the ideas and the paths we go in, and just hands-on volunteers.”

Supporting Rocmaura is becoming increasingly important as seniors continue to live longer and become frailer, said Mohra.

“I think the need for long-term care will continue,” she said. “There will always be a need in our community.

“We will see a greater need with the baby boomers who will require care. That will ease off once that generation is through, but there will still be a place for us.”

For more information on Rocmaura, its open house on Jan. 18, and its upcoming fundraisers, including its curling funspiel on Feb. 2, visit www.rocmaura.com, call 643-7090 or email foundation@rocmaura.com.