Long-term care facility for young adults planned for Riverhead

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | This vacant farmhouse could soon be remade into a group home for non-elderly adults in need of long-term medical care.

There are few services on Long Island for young people in need of constant medical care. Now, some families that have discovered this the hard way are taking matters into their own hands.

More than a dozen people met in Medford last Thursday night for the first time to discuss how to raise money and support for Brendan’s House, a planned 12-bed long-term care home on Sound Avenue in Riverhead for people with traumatic brain injuries or other cognitive and physical disabilities.

A structure on the property once provided housing for single mothers before it was donated last year to New Beginnings, a nonprofit outpatient rehab center in Medford. As envisioned, the new facility would be staffed around the clock with nurses and other aides for its residents.

“There are very few resources out there for [young people who need long-term care],” said Kate DiMeglio, vice president of New Beginnings, which offers long-term care services for patients dealing with traumatic brain injuries and their families. “I’ve been fighting this for 13 years; we’re at the bottom of the barrel.”

Brendan’s House would be run by New Beginnings and the nonprofit Family Residences & Essential Enterprises of Old Bethpage. Costs for care would be covered by the patients’ insurance, said New Beginnings’ founder, Allyson Scerri.

New Beginnings opened in Medford in April 2011 and has since served more than 150 people who would otherwise have no other place to turn to for support, said Ms. Scerri, a Remsenburg native. She founded the center after her father suffered a severe brain injury in a motorcycle accident and couldn’t get the care he needed on Long Island.

“It’s almost like we’re the land of misfits,” she said, adding that the organization also helps veterans who return home with post-traumatic stress disorder or physical injuries. “We are a family here … We’re the last resort.”

Renovation of the home is expected to cost $200,000, Ms. Scerri said. The group has already received donations from The Home Depot and pro bono services from an attorney and a grant writer. Architect Roger Smith of BBS Architecture, who designed the Long Island Aquarium and the Hyatt Place East End hotel, has also donated time to help with the renovation.

During this week’s meeting at the New Beginnings rehab center, it was also announced that Chrisnic Construction of Bellmore would have each of its subcontractors donate a day of labor to get the project moving.

But center officials are looking for more donations or volunteers to help clean out the existing house, which they say needs to be reconfigured to accommodate handicapped patients. The building itself is structurally sound.

Brendan’s House was named in honor of Brendan Aykroyd, a 25-year-old Blue Point man who suffered a brain injury in a 2009 assault.

Mr. Aykroyd joined New Beginnings to continue his rehabilitation last year, but died in his sleep in June. Around that time, New Beginnings began working on plans for the group home and, after speaking to his parents, decided to name it after Brendan.

“My husband and I are eternally grateful that you are loving our son as you have,” Brendan’s mother, Sandi Aykroyd, told those in attendance Thursday night. “We are just so in awe of this project, that his name will live on.”

Long-term care for non-elderly medically dependent people remains an issue for many Long Island families. According to a Jan. 12 Riverhead News-Review report, few local options exist for children like Michael Hubbard, a Riverhead teenager who was severely burned in a gel-candle accident last May. Michael and his mother, Nancy Reyer, stay off the island while he is being treated at Blythedale Children’s Hospital in Westchester County.

Before she moved upstate to be closer to her son, Ms. Reyer had attended support groups at New Beginnings. The Medford facility will soon also begin rehabilitation treatment for 4-year-old Marialena Trinca, who was seriously injured in a Manorville car crash that claimed the lives of her brother Jason, 10, and her mother, Keri, in October.

Under the current plan, Brendan’s House residents would live at the Riverhead group home and spend most days at New Beginnings for treatment. Family Residences & Essential Enterprises would staff the home, which would cater to non-elderly patients who need constant care but crave independence.

While organizers would like to have Brendan’s House up and running as soon as possible, project manager and executive vice president Steve Scerri said he wants to “do it right” and not rush the renovations. Proper zoning permits for Brendan’s House have already been secured from Riverhead Town and project principals are waiting for Mr. Smith, the architect, to provide a list of materials that they hope will be donated.

Ms. Scerri expects to have Brendan’s House open within a year, and hopes to open more homes for long-term care in the future.

“We started with an empty building [in Medford] and the town saying, ‘You’re crazy,’ ” she said. “Today all of our rooms were filled.”

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