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Grace House provides lessons in compassion for University of Akron nursing students

Believing no one should die alone, future nurses offer comfort and care to the terminally ill.

AKRON, Ohio — Nursing is often considered the backbone of our health care system. And across Northeast Ohio, nursing schools are preparing the next generation of transformational medical professionals. The University of Akron's Nursing School is providing its students with invaluable lessons in comfort and compassion, thanks to a place called Grace House

The compassionate care home opened last September. It serves up to 6 residents at a time. Each detail of the light, airy home is thoughtfully constructed, down to the smallest detail to bring feelings of peace serenity to mind. 

"The word grace means a gift. And we wanted it to be a gift to the community, from the community and to our residents. And it really, really has worked out that way."

Holly Klein is Executive Director at Grace House and also a co-founder. 

She and Cindy Browning spent much of their careers working with hospice patients. They wanted a place for individuals in the community who are at the end of life, and without access to a caregiver or the means to afford one.  They often also have no support system. 

But in Grace House, these residents are nurtured, enriched and engaged, with the belief that dying shouldn't be an impediment to living. 

"Just because they may be in their last days, doesn't mean that they don't wake up thinking they want to do something today or want to eat a certain food."

Stephanie Impagliozza will graduate from the University of Akron's School of Nursing later this year. She is one of two students on rotation here; part of the school's community partnership - with Grace House providing a classroom where the lessons are profound. 

"We just want them to focus on being present. So sitting with our patients and talking with our residents about their life or life experiences, it's important just to be present and to help them feel wanted and loved because some of our residents' biggest fears is that nobody is going to remember them," Klein shared. 

Those conversations are important. On the day we visited Impagliozza was preparing a surprise for one resident. "I'm in the process of making a little virtual trip to Paris for her, and we're going to hook it up in her room and take her through the different sites and bakeries and things like that in Paris so she feel like she went to Paris today."

Death is still hard. But Impagliozza is thankful she now sees it differently. Grace House is the class that will serve her, throughout her career. 

"A big part of nursing is your interaction with patients and learning how to be empathetic," Impagliozza said. 

For the gift of grace is present here, for all who call it home. 

"Really at the end of the day, that's our goal here. To accept people for who they are, meet them where they are, and just to provide that compassion," Klein said. 

She and Cindy Browning believe that everyone deserves to die in the presence of care, compassion and dignity. And that no one should die alone. 

Individuals enter Grace House, through referrals from family, social workers, hospice and hospital systems. All care to residents is free. 

Nursing students do assist in care, but as Executive Director Holly Klein told us, those are skills they can learn in hospital settings At Grace House, she also reminds them to be "present." 

Many residents are also very socially isolated upon arrival at the home. At Grace House, part of the goal is to engage them socially, ask about their life, find out what they like and what makes them happy. The University of Akron wants its nursing students to gain those communication and compassionate care skills. The tools they learn at Grace House will serve them well, where ever they go. 

Grace House is community supported. It is not tied to a hospital system, government or company. The team behind it fundraised and built the facility during the pandemic, with the generous support of private donors and grants. 

To learn more about Grace House, visit HERE. 


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