Dave Guthro, | Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland

BIDDEFORD—Come this spring, residents of St. André Health Care in Biddeford will be able to head outdoors to enjoy the beauty of a new outdoor garden, gazebo and patio.

Residents, staff, board members and supporters of the health-care facility gathered on Tuesday, Sept. 4, to ceremonially break groundfor the St. André Memory Care Garden, a place those suffering from memory loss and those going through rehab.

“It’s physical exercise. It’s rehabilitation. It’s relaxation. It’s enjoyment. There are a lot of possibilities for the garden,” said Sister Patricia Sullivan, RSM, the head of mission integration and spiritual care of the facility, who offered the blessing at the groundbreaking ceremony. 

St. André is a 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 5,600 square foot garden will be created in back of the health-care facility, where there is now an outdoor patio. That area will be expanded and enclosed, so that it will be safe for residents with memory loss. It will also be built on the same level as the facility, so that residents in wheelchairs will have easy access. Currently, the patio is accessible by a ramp. In addition, a gazebo will be built and raised garden beds will be created.

“The proposed garden is not primarily an amenity but, rather, an essential part of the caregiving process that we provide all of our residents. Studies have clearly verified the health and wellness benefits of natural environment, such as those experienced in a garden setting. The common goal of the garden is to make people safe and secure, less stressed, more comfortable, and even invigorated,” explained Michael Morel, chair of St. André’s Board of Directors.

“I think the garden is an excellent idea,” said Bob LaFortune, a resident who attended the ceremony. “It will enhance the whole view.”

Those who dug shovels into the ground to symbolize the start of phase one of the project included Morel; Stephen Alaimo, the president/administrator of St. André; Francois Blais, the director of plant operations; Nicholas Stankevitz of Amron Landscaping, LLC; and Sister Terry Gauvin, SCIM, the provincial of the Good Shepherd Sisters of Quebec.

It was the Good Shepherd Sisters who founded St. André in 1940, originally as a home for unwed mothers. In the mid-70’s, it became a long-term care facility, and 16 years ago, Covenant Health took over operations. The sisters, however, still remain active at St. André volunteering their time. They also made a substantial donation towards the garden.

“I think it’s a wonderful idea, and our community is very supportive of it,” Sister Terry said. “With time, we’re getting to be more sensitive to those with memory loss, and this is going to be wonderful for them to be able to come outside.”

Other guests at the groundbreaking ceremony included Senator Susan Deschambault from District 32, which includes Biddeford; Representative Marty Grohman from Biddeford; and Biddeford Mayor Alan Casavant. Senator Deschambault and Mayor Casavant both said St. André and the garden are especially meaningful to them because their mothers were once residents there.

“There is something natural and invigorating in terms of nature with color, and flowers, and greenery, and sun, and even the four seasons that brings out the best in all of us and makes us feel better. So, I think that what is being accomplished here is of huge benefit to everybody,” Mayor Casavant said.

The first phase of the project will include excavation of the area and installing the footing for the gazebo. In phase two, retainer walls and raised garden beds will be added, as well as some shaded areas for residents. Phase three will include the placement of brick pavers, although that phase has intentionally been left a bit open, so that residents and staff can be involved in some of the final decisions, such as which plants to choose. 

More fundraising needs to be done to complete the Memory Care Garden. To contribute, visit www.standre.org/donate and select “Memory Care Garden” under designation. For more information, contact the facility at (207) 282-5171.