Sunshine Haven attempts to raise $100,000 to keep hospice open

A view of an empty end-of-life residential care room at Sunshine Haven, Inc. Friday, May 29, 2020, that provides residential palliative care in Olmito, Texas. The nonprofit and end-of-life care facility has been hit hard financially due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald via AP

The Board of Directors at Sunshine Haven, an Olmito-based end-of-life care facility that provides services to patients and families free of cost, is asking the community to step up and donate, spread the word, and support the center’s campaign to raise $100,000 so it can keep its doors open in the wake of COVID-19.

Director Veronica Lucio explained how the center’s eight-week long closure out of an abundance of caution for patients, families, and staff has taken a huge financial toll on the organization as it relies solely on donations and grants to survive.

Sunshine Haven will celebrate its 20th anniversary on Nov. 4. Founded by Brownsville’s very first female registered nurse Lois del Castillo in 1998 with a group of Brownsville residents, the home provides focused and compassionate care to community members making their transition out of this life. This is done in part through low nurse to patient ratios, creating the ability to forge real connections with families and their loved ones while connecting those who need it to services like social workers and counseling.

Certified Nursing Assistants provide full-time care to patients inside the facility and maintain communication between hospice agencies, nurses, and doctors to ensure that everyone has the most up-to-date information regarding the care of those passing. For the past 20 years, Sunshine Haven’s staff of certified nurse’s assistants has served over 1,408 individuals in the Rio Grande Valley. It is one of only 11 special care facilities in the State of Texas, one of three in the Rio Grande Valley, and is the only center serving Cameron County residents.

“ We were tracking COVID-19 as cases were going up, how it was affecting the area. We’re ready to open; we’ve taken a really heavy hit and a lot of our donors have been affected by COVID-19. We’ve been looking at ways to keep the doors open,” said Lucio of the fundraiser.

Lucio joined the team in October but forged a personal connection with Del Castillo many years prior. She spent nearly a decade in Del Castillo’s bible study groups before learning that her grandfather was Brownsville’s first male nurse and that Del Castillo cared for him when he passed at an early age.

The facility today exists in Del Castillo’s legacy. “Her dream was always to open a place where people could be cared for compassionately as they were in that final stage of life and at no cost to the patient or the family,” she said. “The hard thing about COVID-19, outside of the financial impact, is the restrictions we have to put in place.”

Protocols have been put in place to screen visitors and ensure everyone is safe in accordance with strict regulations. Lucio said staff is planning creative ways to continue connecting with patients and families in a safe manner. “Our board agonized over how we were going to mitigate visitors because so many other places are denying visitation. In end of life care, it’s different. This is what we do. We hold families’ hands, we pray with them if they want us to pray with them, we cry with them,” she said.

Many of the families the special care facility serves are low to moderate income and represent a variety of different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. Staff served 133 Cameron County residents last year including veterans, homeless individuals, and female heads of households.

The home’s Angel Wing, completed in 2014, will remain closed for the time being, however, Sunshine Haven is welcoming patients again on Monday. Devon Hernandez, the facility’s community liaison, recalled feeling moved by the close-knit community at Sunshine Haven when she came on board six months ago, describing the peaceful feeling throughout the home.

“I couldn’t believe that a place like this existed here. I was impacted by the love the CNAs showed to their parents. I was touched by how much the community loves it. I’m really hoping the community will step up and support us. They have so many times before,” Hernandez said of her work.

The fundraiser will begin on June 1 and is running through the home’s anniversary in November. Donations can be given through Sunshine Haven’s GoFundMe page: www.gofundme.com/f/sunshine-haven-inc-needs-your-help. Those interested in contributing physical donations — such as cleaning supplies, bleach, soap, hand sanitizer, and towels — can do so by calling Sunshine Haven at (956) 350-8400 or sending an email to sunshinehaveninc@sbcglobal.net.

esheridan@brownsvilleherald.com