Uncommon care

Dee DeLuca’s final years were eased by attentive care and friendship at Valley View

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  • Dee DeLuca surrounded by her grandchildren at Valley View.

During a budget scare at Valley View last year, Louis asked administrators what would happen to his wife if the home closed. He was told she could be transferred anywhere in the state, up to three hours away. In that case, Dawn said, she would have lost her father then too. He would have left to stay with Dee.

By Ginny Privitar

— Dawn Guevara remembers her mother before she became ill.

“My mom‘s personality was something else,” Dawn said. “She was very full of life. She laughed — she was a fun person. She got along with everybody.”

Delicia (“Dee”) Conservo was born in the old Goshen Hospital and raised in Chester. She met Louis DeLuca, the man who would be her husband, when she was 14. They were together for 50 years.

Dee was a police officer and, for 20 years, a matron for the Village of Chester Police Department. She was the receiver of taxes for the Town of Chester and was a past member of Walton Engine and Hose Company Ladies Auxiliary.

Her life revolved around her grandson and granddaughter. But Dawn said she didn’t get to spend time with her third grandchild.

Some would say Dee lived a full life, but she died much too soon, at 64. She was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s when she only 56 years old.

Her family started to notice memory lapses a few months after Dee had elective weight loss surgery in October 2005. The following March they received the dreaded diagnosis, which they believe was brought on by a lack of oxygen or stroke during surgery.

You might expect the story to end on an unhappy note, but that was not the case. During the last years of Dee’s life, the staff at Valley View nursing home became an extension of her loving family. Dawn said the nurses and other staff were constantly in and out of her mother’s room, giving comfort and care. Dee’s husband, Louis, spent every day from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. with his wife at Valley View. He befriended everyone there, from the maintenance crew to the nurses to the activity director. He got to know the shift nurses well.

Home away from home

It was a refrain heard over and over during the county legislature’s public hearing on April 4, when more than 600 people turned out to support, often with great emotion, Valley View as a county-owned and -run institution: the staff at Valley View is like family — not just to their patients, but to their patients’ families too.

After her diagnosis, Dee entered the adult day care program at Elant. Dawn was her primary caretaker, but her job and Dee’s declining health made caretaking difficult.

Dee was hospitalized for a stroke and required rehabilitation. Her son, Jeff, a Town of Monroe police officer, asked local EMTs for a recommendation. They all recommended Valley View.

Dee was transferred to the Alzheimer’s wing at Valley View for rehabilitation. Dawn credits them for helping her mother to walk again.

Dee was still able to walk even as her health declined from a debilitating series of mini-strokes and seizures that robbed her of speech. She would soon be confined to a wheelchair.

This year, on Jan. 29, staff at Valley View called Dawn at her job at BOCES. Come quickly, they said. Her mother was failing.

Over the next six days, Dawn, Jeff and Louis spent every moment at Dee’s side, sleeping on cots, while Dawn’s daughter, Deanna, stayed at a friend’s house. Dee was no longer taking food or water and was on morphine. Dawn said that at the end of every shift, “the nurses all came down to pay their respects, not knowing if she would still be there.”

A group of nurses about to be off for two days asked to have a few moments alone with Dee. Some gave the family their cell phone numbers.

One nurse came in early one evening, at 6 p.m., just to see Dee, returning home to sleep before coming back for her next shift at 11 p.m. The maintenance man brought the family drinks and juices during their vigil.

On the night of Feb. 3-4, Dawn went home to sleep for a few hours and get her children off to school. Early on the morning of Feb. 4, she received a call. Her mother had died.

“It’s almost like she waited for me to leave,” Dawn said.

“The care that these women gave — they were so wonderful,” she said. “They were all crying and as upset as we were. They all showed up for my mom’s wake. They sent flowers and cards.”

‘This is how you treat them?’

Louis volunteers at Valley View three or four days a week. He was calling bingo there as Dawn told her story.

Deanna has spent time visiting patients at Valley View, pushing their wheelchairs and giving out hugs. She showed up there in her communion dress. The staff presented her with a card and money for the occasion.

During a budget scare at Valley View last year, Louis asked administrators what would happen to his wife if the home closed. He was told she could be transferred anywhere in the state, up to three hours away. In that case, Dawn said, she would have lost her father then too. He would have left to stay with Dee.

Dawn is upset with County Executive Steve Neuhaus’s push to dispose of Valley View. She remembers his campaign promise to keep it open. How can he keep that promise if a new owner takes over? Dawn wants Valley View around if her father, a Marine who served in Vietnam, ever needs it.

Neuhaus and those who support the transfer say that Valley View is an unsustainable drain on the county budget and an immediate threat to the county’s bond rating. Those who oppose the transfer say Valley View is a miniscule part of a budget overstuffed with building projects.

Dawn says the efforts in recent years to close, sell or otherwise get Valley View off the county’s hands have caused residents great pain and recurring anxiety. She is angry at Neuhaus and the Republican legislators for their vote to transfer the nursing home to a local development corporation for eventual sale, only months after agreeing to fund the home for a year and give it a chance to turn around.

“These are people who have worked their entire lives, and this is how you treat them?” she said.

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