In a history filled with countless milestones, the R.K. MacDonald Nursing Home in Antigonish celebrated its most recent one with an open house.
“We are very proud to celebrate 60 years of caring,” Michelle Thompson, R.K. CEO, said during her words of welcome for the Oct. 3 celebration.
There was a full house in the R.K.’s main dining room to commemorate those special six decades, since its first resident – Joseph Cesale, 92, of Havre Boucher, Antigonish County – moved in on Feb. 24, 1958.
Since that day, there have been changes to the then 70-bed, two-storey seniors’ home, including a pair of expansions, along with the advances in technology that have come for such facilities.
Nevertheless, what hasn’t changed is that commitment by staff members, volunteers, board members and supporters to ‘caring.’
“It is a time of deep joy for us to mark with those of you gathered here today – the significance of this special day of blessing for the community of Antigonish,” Congregation of the Sisters of Saint Martha Leader Sister Brendalee Boisvert said.
The Sisters played an integral role, one that began 15 years before the facility welcomed its first residents with making this community dream a reality.
Cementing their commitment to the initiative, the Sisters mortgaged their home – Bethany Motherhouse – to help finance its construction.
In 1955, Roderick Kennedy ‘R.K.’ MacDonald willed $100,000 for construction of a seniors’ home, which served as the impetus to raise $450,000 to finance the initiative.
“There have been changes and growth, but you have never wavered from your commitment to passionate care,” Warden Owen McCarron of the Municipality of the County of Antigonish said, describing the R.K. as a “home-away-from-home for so many.”
In a letter marking the occasion, Town of Antigonish Mayor Laurie Boucher, who could not attend the celebration, agreed.
“It is quite a milestone,” she said, noting the “exceptional care” residents have and continue to receive.
Thompson described the R.K., which is home for 136 residents and employs 265 people, as a “small hive of activity within our larger community.”
“There is a tremendous amount of productivity and work that occurs here on a daily basis but, more importantly, there is a tremendous amount of caregiving, meaningful relationships and kindness,” she said.
She noted the “major strength” of the home is its “dedicated and hardworking staff.”
“It takes a very special person to work in long-term care and the R.K. is blessed to have many of these people under their roof. Their dedication and caring is witnessed daily throughout the halls of this home,” Thompson said.
She added thanks for the R.K.’s “wonderful and powerful” foundation, which spearheads numerous fundraising efforts.
“We continue to have the best equipment to care safely for the residents and the facilities to enhance the lives of the people in the home,” Thompson said.
There is also the “small and mighty” family council, which advocates for residents and their families, for staff and the facility.
“We are grateful for our relationship with the council and for the advisement they offer,” Thompson said.
She noted the thousands of volunteer hours delivered from community members of all ages, service clubs and organizations, which she said are “an essential part of the fabric of this home.”
Strong community partners, she added, include St. F.X., Arts Health Antigonish, NSHA and Caravan Society.
“As you know it takes many hands and many minds to run a 24-7 operation,” Thompson said.
‘Caring and curing’
Using remarks from a 1975 address he made to graduates of the R.K.’s personal care worker program, with modifications made for the open house celebration, Dr. Patrick Walsh spoke on the concepts of ‘caring and curing,’ ones he said are “intrinsically linked.”
“There’s only a vowel difference but there is a big difference,” the retired St. F.X. English professor and former long-time R.K. nursing home corporation secretary said after the formal ceremony.
“Curing never succeeds – the need for it is infinite. Then you have caring – caring is finite; it is hands-on, helping people. Caring is the thing that makes us human.
“It is a sharing of love between the people who are doing and the people who are receiving,” he added.
Walsh agreed the R.K. is a perfect reflection of that gift of caring, describing everyone who contributed to its first 60 years, and beyond, as “real heroes.”
“You are real heroes because you care,” he said.
‘Legacy of excellence’
Speaking of ‘heroes,’ Thompson expressed her gratitude for the R.K.’s residents.
“I am sure there is no problem that has not already been experienced or solved by at least one person living in this home,” she said.
The home is filled with laughter, stories, wisdom, and patience and the relationships formed here are those of the deepest humanity.
“It is our privilege as staff members to work in your home and be here in service to you. We are grateful for your wisdom, your counsel and your patience,” Thompson added.
She also praised “the work of those who have come before us and built the legacy of excellence we continue to emulate today.”
“We celebrate 60 years of community involvement, generosity and excellence in caring; may the legacy of the R.K. continue for many years,” Thompson said.