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New 5-patient hospice opens in Flushing

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Every day many Queens residents are forced to confront the brutal reality that a loved one is dying. For the families, watching relatives in their final days is an extremely painful process.

But now a new hospice in Flushing hopes to help ease that pain.

The Long Island Care Center at 144-61 38th Ave. officially unveiled its five-patient hospice unit last Thursday, only the second such facility in the borough, said Fred Stock, its administrator.

The hospice was named for Myra Baird Herce, longtime Flushing activist and co-president of the Flushing Chamber of Commerce.

"For me, it's probably the greatest honor I have ever had in my life," a beatific Herce told a crowd that included many of her friends and family. "I will never forget this day."

The unit, which began accepting patients in early June, is operated by the Hospice of New York on the second floor of the Long Island Care Center, a 200-bed nursing home.

The hospice consists of six separate rooms: five for patients and one for family members, who are allowed to spend the night.

The unit is designed to provide a tranquil setting where terminally ill patients can spend their final days with their loved ones.

"We are providing a haven, a safe haven," Stock said. "The family can be here 24 hours a day to be with their loved ones."

The stays are covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance, Stock said. Patients can live at the hospice as long as they need, although most stays last about two weeks.

Patients are referred to the center from hospitals and other hospice programs, Stock said.

Stock said the hospice's staff works to insure the patients are comfortable.

"If they are managed properly, they do not have to be in pain," he said.

The center chose to name the hospice for Herce because of her contributions to the Flushing community, Stock said.

In addition to her work with the Flushing Chamber, Herce is the former chairwoman of Community Board 7 and has served on the boards of several other organizations over the past two decades.

"She's a good friend, not only to me but to the community," said Jack Hogan, co-president of the Flushing Chamber.

Gene Kelty, the current chairman of CB 7, spoke of Herce glowingly.

"I can't think of a better scenario than to have this thing named for Myra," he said.

Herce's husband, once a fighter pilot, died of cancer in 1996.

"He was an outstanding human being, and he taught me about courage," Herce said. "He used to tell me, 'Myra, don't worry. Go right for the center of the hurricane.'"

The unit was dedicated in the memory of Richard Herce as well as Herce's mother, Olga Baird.

Herce said she would have gladly taken her husband to the center had it existed at the time.

"I know this is going to bring a lot of solace to a lot of families," she said.

Bill Baird, Herce's brother, told the gathering that his sister had come a long way from their humble beginnings as children during the Great Depression, when they looked forward to the occasional day when they were given cookies to eat.

"Myra was very clever," he said with a smile. "If the cookies came in her brothers' direction, she would lick them."

Baird recalled the death of their 12-year-old sister, who died after doctors misdiagnosed her ruptured appendix.

"At the time, there was no hospice, no grief counseling, nothing," he said. "The way we handled our grief, we'd run down to the basement and hug each other."

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300 Ext. 141.

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