Community News February 15, 2024

My Visit to the Sunshine Children’s Home

In 1962, my older brother Paul, then just 4 years old, got gravely ill and was rushed to the hospital.

He would not come home until a year later. His life would be an odyssey of living with diabetes, kidney failure and dialysis, a urostomy most of his life, and all that comes with those conditions. He wasn’t the type of guy who let such things stop him; he graduated from Cornell University and had a successful career in the hotel industry before his untimely passing in 2005 at age 47. While this is not about him, the experience of living with someone with such challenges, and the stories I heard about the hellish year on my family when he was hospitalized always stayed with me.

In 2015 I was asked to attend a hearing at the Town Hall of New Castle, NY to hear local residents speak on the expansion of a local children’s hospital, the Sunshine Home. I expected formalities. The expansion of a children’s hospital didn’t strike me as something anyone would oppose.

I was incorrect. While the location of the facility was a 34 acre property in a wooded, sparsely populated area of town, a small number of nearby homeowners were vocally opposed to the project. I will not devote more words than the opposition deserve. It was one of the uglier displays of NIMBY (not in my back yard) I’ve ever seen. I supported the project and spoke publicly at the hearings to dismiss the absurd argument put forth that property values would “plummet.” The other arguments against struck me as contrived and implausible.

I will digress just a moment and observe that I was right about values. In the 6 months prior to that 2015 hearing, homes within a mile of the Sunshine Home had a median sale price of $417,500. Today the median price in the last 6 months in that same footprint is $954,000. That’s right, the median sale price more than doubled. Not only that, sales volume was slightly higher this year.

This past week I was contacted by the Sunshine administration and invited to take a tour of the nearly completed expansion. I was able to walk through with the director and got a tour of the magnificent job they did. In addition to increasing the bed count from about 50 to over 120, the resources available to the patients and their families are so extensive and first class that even my big mouth can hardly do it justice. The physical plant itself doesn’t feel like a hospital. It is a bright, airy, colorful lodge.

It weas surreal to see the improvements. The room for haircuts is a full service spa. The rehabilitation facilities are state of the art. Many medical resources that otherwise would have required transport to outside facilities are now available on premises. The patients even still go to school, in house. Outdoor space is filled with recreational structures, water works, and places for families to sit together and spend time. The sensory gyms are amazing, with interactive electronic touch displays. There is aquatic therapy. The walls and visuals are anything but drab and institutional- it feels more designed by Willy Wonka than the expected utilitarian feel of a hospital. The utility is still there- it’s the presentation, however, that makes such a huge difference.

Their website has more visuals than I can post to do it justice, and when you do see what they have done, you should feel some gratitude that you are only an observer. Parents with a child here are in some of the most difficult times of their lives, and the entire setup is geared toward easing their burden as much as possible. I felt emotional walking through the halls and having the upgrades and additions explained.

And throughout the tour, I was exposed to dozens of professionals doing the work of the angels with these children, some as young as preemies. Everyone was smiling and on their game, engaged with making a difference to the child patient in their care.  I could imagine what it would have meant to my parents to be able to have my brother in this setting, and what support the parents of the current patients must feel.

I am gratified that I was able to make my small contribution to making this a reality.