U.S. Sen. Susan Collins speaks to the audience gathered for the dedication of the new St. André Health Care Memory Garden in Biddeford on Friday. The garden will be used for physical exercise, therapies, and activities for St. André residents. ED PIERCE/Journal Tribune

BIDDEFORD — If gardens are the realization of hopes and dreams, visitors attending the dedication of the new St. André Health Care Memory Care Garden on Friday in Biddeford can bear witness to that.

Surrounded by trees and nature, the new 5,600-square-foot garden was praised by special guests at the event including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins and Roman Catholic Bishop Robert P. Deeley of the Diocese of Portland. Created in back of the health care facility at 407 Pool St. in Biddeford, the garden features an expanded and enclosed outdoor patio which is safe for residents experiencing memory loss.

“The memory garden is not amenity, it’s part of the total care of this facility,” said Michael Morel, board chair of St. André Health Care. “It will be an essential part of the caregiving process that we provide all of our residents.”

St. André is a not-for-profit, 96-bed residence offering rehabilitation and skilled medical care, short-term respite care, long-term nursing care, Alzheimer’s and dementia care, and palliative and hospice care. The Memory Care Unit at St. André is home to patients diagnosed with memory loss, specifically dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Morel said that the new garden was constructed on the same level as the St. André facility, so residents in wheelchairs would have easy access to it. A  gazebo was built, along with raised garden beds is the garden is expected to be used for physical exercise, therapies, and activities for St. André residents in a serene, safe and secure environment.

He introduced Collins, who spoke at length about her own experiences in dealing with her late father, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease and memory loss.

“Virtually every family in our state has been touched by Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Collins said. “This is one issue where Congress is working in a bipartisan way to address this.”

She said that when she first was elected to serve in the U.S. Senate, only about $400 million was allocated to research and exploring ways to treat dementia-related conditions.

“Now we are allocating $2.3 billion,” Collins said. “And too often the challenges that caregivers face are overlooked in health care policy.”

Collins said that her father, who died last year, would have enjoyed visiting the Memory Care Garden.

“How he would loved coming out into this beautiful garden and sitting in the gazebo,” she said. “Alzheimer’s has hit this generation hard, but I am determined that it will not define the next generation.”

Stephen Alaimo, St. André Health Care president said since the project was first announced a little over two years ago, the outpouring of support from the community has been tremendous.

“I am completely overwhelmed with the support we’ve received on this project,” Alaimo said. “It’s just a beautiful space and the project is 90 percent complete except for fencing.”

Alaimo offered special thanks to three generous donors who contributed to making the project become a reality.

First, he thanked the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec, Canada, for their gift of $10,000 to build the garden. The Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec founded St. André in 1940, originally as a home for unwed mothers. In the mid-1970s, it became a long-term care facility, and 16 years ago, Covenant Health took over operations but the sisters remain active at St. André through volunteering and financial support.

Sister Terry Gauvin, Provincial of the Good Shepherd Sisters, said she is amazed at how the garden turned out.

“Our prayer for all of you is that each time you visit this beautiful spot, you will be fully renewed and enriched,” Gauvin said.

Alaimo also expressed the gratitude of everyone at St. André to the Davis Family Foundation for a $20,000 grant used to enhance the basic garden structure, install a new handicap-accessible door and pay for fencing to surround the garden. And he also recognized 17 different Knights of Columbus councils from throughout Maine that have donated more than $24,000 to the project and helped cover the costs of building the gazebo.

Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant said Friday’s dedication of the garden shows how truly special the Biddeford community is.

“It’s a giving community,” he said. “You begin to realize it’s the people we care about, our families, our grandparents and each other. I want to thank everybody who participated in this.”

Bishop Deeley blessed the garden and said he was inspired by what had been accomplished through its construction.

“This garden gives hope to all,” Deeley said. “I see this as a beautiful space that shows God’s love for us.”

Other speakers at the dedication were Bonny Pothier, representing U.S. Sen. Angus King; State Sen. Susan Descambault; and Phil Lizotte, state deputy of the Maine Knights of Columbus. Students from St. James School in Biddeford provided a medley of patriotic music for the occasion.

— Executive Editor Ed Pierce can be reached at 282-1535 or by email at [email protected]


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