Memories began as a trickle, and soon they were gushing as Kathy Panepento and Betty James recalled the early days of Crossroads House.
There were certainly recollections of how the comfort care home became a fixture in Batavia, but perhaps even more special were the people that filled the beds over the last two and a half decades.
Like the gentleman who had three wishes to not die at his residence, have a beer and watch the Buffalo Bills game scheduled for later that day, Panepento said. He moved into Crossroads, and she went home to get him a beer; however, he died in a short six hours, before the game came on.
“But he got two wishes,” she said.
Crossroads House will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a Red Carpet Gala on Jan. 28 at Batavia Downs. (See related article for details.)
Panepento has been the face of Crossroads as a registered nurse in the hospice field and eventual founder of the site in January 1998. She has worked at Buffalo Hospice and helped to get a hospice for Genesee, and Wyoming County certified, training volunteers and continuously learning about the needs of the community.
She had gone from the OB-GYN field to hospice because “I fell in love with it.”
“You know, it’s such a personal approach,” Panepento said. “So then I got involved with the planning committee with them starting hospice with JD LeSeur and Father Scheider. And I was the first paid employee and training the hospice volunteers … and then getting it to certification and getting it approved by the State Department of Health.”
Filling a need
That was for the two-county hospice program. Panepento observed something about how the medical system was working: people weren’t dying quickly enough, which meant they couldn’t go to a hospital, yet also couldn't safely remain at their own residence, and instead were transferred to a nursing home.
“And a lot of times, they died before the transfer or in an ambulance on the way to the nursing home. So it's like, man, we're missing something. Even though Hospice is a great organization, they're limited in what they can give. So we just need something to fill in that crack there,” she said. “So I had the dream in ’95, my husband will recall: he said, ‘Oh no. What is it now?’ And I said we need to open up a comfort-care home. Batavia does not have an inpatient unit. They don't have a palliative care unit. There's only three beds in Genesee County for people that are dying.”
James, also a registered nurse who lives in Perry, became involved by way of Florida. One of her favorite aunts had been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, and James and husband Tom went to Florida to see her. Her aunt was in hospice care at home. And her uncle was “just on edge.”
“There was a knock on the door, and a hospice nurse entered. I could see a visible relaxation of him, and I thought it was just a wonderful thing,” James said. “When I came back, I talked it up. That didn’t go anywhere.”
Then she saw an ad for a nurse at the Hospice of Genesee and Wyoming County and became Panepento’s first hire.
“She had to teach me a lot; you’re going into people’s homes. They’re hurting; it’s more symptom control management,” James said. “God ordained me to this field. You get to know the person and their disease process.”
Panepento had to insert a story about James and a male patient with a king-sized bed. Part of the job is to assist people where they’re at and not move them, so James attempted to care for him. She admitted that she had never seen a bed that big, so it was a challenge to reach him.
“And she fell into bed with him,” Panepento said as she and James broke into a laugh.
“You have to have a sense of humor,” James said, recalling the reaction of her and the man. “We laughed.”
What's in a name?
The name Crossroads came during what the women believe was a divine moment. A group of them was having lunch — a routine event at the Red Osier — and had been trying to come up with a name for this comfort care home in Batavia. James was sitting next to a nurse at one end of the table.
“I said, ‘Oh, that sounds wonderful.’ She said, ‘what, I didn't say anything.’ And I heard it: Crossroads House. And she said, ‘that's it,’” James said. “That was heavenly ordained because I remember there was a God wink. Yes, I like that term.”
Panepento began to cite a Jeremiah verse: “Thus says the Lord: Stop at the crossroads and look around you. Ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it. You will find rest for your souls.”
“I believe that God led us to bring it to reality,” James said.
And over these more than two dozen years, there have been people who came — not to die but to live — out their remaining days at the home on Liberty Street. There have also been families of those 575 residents that settled in to support, and spend time, laugh and cry, and often reconcile old hurts with, a loved one.
There was an older gentleman who was there with his wife. And they were just so tight, James said.
“He was here every morning and he'd sit by her side. Every Thursday, he knew I was working. This is about the connection you get. And he'd come with a bag of (items) for the house. And after she passed, I think he just needed to keep the connection here for a while. Every Thursday, he’d bring things like paper towels … it's just one of the thousand things in my head about this place.”
Over the years, there have been countless stories, and many events, including baptisms, weddings, birthday parties and showers.
Panepento added that families do come back after a loved one has died, “because we nurture them.”
“We've held them up. And you know, they come back, and it's like reunion time,” she said. “We always tell our families, you're gonna adopt the Crossroads House family, but we're gonna adopt you too. You’re family.”
That nurturing has also come from a supportive community — First Presbyterian agreed to rent a vacant property for $1 a month when nobody knew where and how a home would be established, and well-attended fundraisers and donations have helped to float the nonprofit all these years while it charged nothing for the service.
“What a blessing! Now we had a home that needed extensive repairs, and with no money to start the renovations. Then came more blessings. On two different occasions, we were able to get prisoners to help with the remodeling process. The community came through for us, and area businesses donated building supplies and equipment. We even got volunteers to provide the manual labor,” Panepento said. “Staff was hired, volunteers were trained, the house was named Crossroads House, marketing was begun, and we fund-raised until we knew we had enough operating capital to open our doors and provide our services.”
Organizers themselves also “dug into our own pocketbooks,” James said. It took $7,000 just to get incorporated. As the house furnishings — donations seemed to miraculously fill the void when needed. Learning that a new furnace requiring $800 down was soon followed by a donation of $800. Needs of furniture and appliances often happened the same way. It was as though their needs — often seemingly out of reach — were somehow met time and time again.
Panepento looked up from the sitting room, recalling a huge hole in the roof over the kitchen. It got repaired, and they just carried on, focusing on providing services of care, comfort, and genuine love. More recently, the donation of a handicap-accessible van has furthered the offerings to include outings with residents.
Living at Crossroads
They took in the first resident, Jean, on Jan. 7, 1998. She was a good friend, nurse and mentor whose husband came with their dog and stayed there with her. Jean even helped to train volunteers, giving nuggets of advice such as how to move someone properly. There are even committee meetings conducted in her room to keep her involved.
“So we brought that to her bedside, and she did life,” James said. “And that's when we say you're not here to die. You're here to live until you take that final breath, whenever that may be.”
Top Photo: Kathy Panepento and Betty James look at a scrapbook of Crossroads House history at the comfort care home on Liberty Street, Batavia. Photos by Joanne Beck.