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Clara’s House Makes FirstHealth’s Hospitality House Dream a Reality

| Date Posted: 3/14/2012

PINEHURST – The wide-open arms of “La Breeza” welcomed visitors to Clara McLean’s suite in Pinehurst’s Carolina Hotel for many years.

Clara McLean House at FirstHealth

The Clara McLean House at FirstHealth, also known as Clara’s House, is a hospitality house for patients being treated at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital and their families. It is located in Pinehurst, across Memorial Drive from Moore Regional’s main entrance.

Soon, the playful piece of statuary will welcome guests to the Healing Garden at the Clara McLean House at FirstHealth.

FirstHealth of the Carolinas’ long-awaited hospitality house will open to guests in April. Although the quiet philanthropist who gave generously to the project and for whom the facility is named didn’t live to see it become reality, she was pleased about the prospect, according to her longtime caregiver and companion.

It was the way she was raised.

“She was taught to be a generous person,” says Pinehurst artist and businesswoman Yvonne Snead.

Since more than half of the people who seek treatment at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital come from outside Moore County, the Clara McLean House at FirstHealth (known informally as “Clara’s House”) was built as a “home away from home” for patients and their families. Located in FirstVillage, across Memorial Drive from the hospital’s main entrance, the facility offers every comfort of home – and more.

Director Rebecca Ainslie describes Clara’s House as “safe space” where guests are assured of finding the comfort and support of shared experiences.

In 20,000-plus square feet, Clara’s House fulfills the dreams of various hospital donors and supporters who throughout the years became increasingly aware of its need. Hundreds of hours of thought and planning, including visits to similar programs throughout the country, went into the project before the first shovel of dirt was turned a year and a half ago.

With the program’s opening, Moore Regional patients and/or families will have a place where they can rest between medical appointments, refresh between visits to the ICU or Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, prepare a quick snack or a family meal, or spend the night before the next round of medical treatments or hospital visits.

Ainslie believes Clara’s House guests will be just as comforted by the communal experiences of the facility as by its physical amenities. They can close their door and retreat into the privacy of a designated room, but they will miss out on a lot if they do, she says.

“They may not be getting the full benefit of staying here,” Ainslie says, “the benefit that families get from supporting each other.”

Inside Clara’s House
In keeping with the community-supported nature of Clara’s House, more than 60 volunteers have been recruited and specially trained to staff and provide various services throughout the house – from check-in to check-out and beyond. Another 35 or so designed, planted and will maintain the Healing Garden at the back of the house.

Volunteers will be visible throughout the open-space of the first floor, which includes a living room, library, family room, dining room and a sunroom with twin exposures to the Healing Garden. A dual kitchen connects to a kid-friendly playroom so that adults can prepare meals while they watch their youngsters play.

Longtime Cancer CARE Fund supporters Gary and Debbie McGahey and their family have taken on the playroom as a personal project, seeing that the area is filled with age-appropriate games, art supplies and puzzles. Church groups and civic organizations are being recruited to prepare a weekly meal as a special treat for Clara’s House guests.

On the second floor, which is accessible by stairs or elevator, there are 12 overnight guest rooms, including two areas that can be combined to provide two-room guest suites for larger family groups. Two of the 12 overnight rooms and the accompanying bathrooms are ADA-accessible, and guests will be able to wash and dry their clothes in a conveniently located laundry room that is completely separate from the house laundry.

The house is Internet-accessible throughout.

In addition to the overnight accommodations, there are two day-guest suites with full bathrooms where patients or their caregivers can rest and freshen up between a day’s appointments. The availability of a small “reflection room” will allow guests needing alone-time to slip away to a private retreat.

The back of the house opens up on a large patio and the Healing Garden, where co-founders Cassie Willis and Lynda Acker have designed a seasonally blooming retreat highlighted by a pergola, traditional English dovecote, and life-sized chess and checker boards – surrounded by a perimeter of Tennessee field stone.

“La Breeza” shares garden space with another piece of McLean statuary called “He ain’t heavy,” a stone boy lifting his stone brother toward a live apple tree from the Moore County farm of Lynda and Dr. Jeffrey Acker, a radiation oncologist at Moore Regional.

“The Healing Garden is a place of beauty and serenity that will allow its visitors to reflect on the health concerns of a loved one after they spend a tiring day at the hospital,” says Ainslie. “It can also be a place where a family can celebrate a birth or a successful surgery.”

According to Ainslie, the Healing Garden expanse includes several different “garden rooms” with seasonal plantings of differing varieties and colors. Some 2,000 bulbs were put into the ground for spring blooming this year, and a rose garden will highlight the summer/fall growing season.

Referral process
Patients and families who use Clara’s House facilities must be referred for the service by a health care professional in the FirstHealth service area. Physicians, nurses, therapists, social workers and chaplains can make referrals, which can also come from the two other FirstHealth hospitals (Montgomery Memorial in Troy and Richmond Memorial in Rockingham) as well as from FirstHealth Hospice & Palliative Care and through the Pastoral Care Office at Moore Regional.

Facilities are available to patients who are undergoing multiple-day treatments at the hospital (such as radiation therapy) and who are able to care for themselves or are accompanied by a caregiver; to the immediate family members of patients; and to relatives of patients in the FirstHealth Hospice House. Greatest priority will go to patients, to the relatives of critically ill patients and to individuals who live 30 or more miles away from the hospital.

The standard fee is $35 a night, but it can vary according to the individual’s or family’s personal financial situation. The house will be open 24 hours, seven days a week with check-in for overnight guests taking place from 2 to 5 p.m. Check-out is 11 a.m.

If the house staff is unable to accommodate all overnight requests, or if the program doesn’t meet the needs of a particular family, FirstHealth will continue to offer the lodging program it provides in partnership with several hotels/motels within easy access of the hospital. The Moore Regional Hospital Foundation assists in providing financial assistance to families in need.

Day visits to Clara’s House are open to patients and families as well as to members of the community. Several FirstHealth resources, including the Cancer and Heart CARE-Net programs, are located in the facility and are also available to the public.

Continuing community support
The dream of Clara’s House began to take shape as early as 2001. The following year, a major gift from the estate of Foundation donor Ruth Watkins helped endow the Cancer CARE Fund, which supports the needs of cancer patients in the community.

In 2004, the Foundation of FirstHealth began a five-year Stepping Stones Campaign to raise money for three major capital projects: the Reid Heart Center and the FirstHealth Hospice House as well as the hospitality house project that would eventually become Clara’s House.

Just as Clara’s House was conceived and built with community support, its success will depend on the support of the community. Ainslie identifies three different areas: financial, volunteer and in-kind (books for the library, toys for the playroom, household staples, etc.)

In addition to the volunteers who provide daily services in the house and garden, individuals with specific talents are also being sought to teach classes (yoga or healthy cooking, for example) or to provide musical or artistic programming for guests.

“We’re excited about bringing art into health care,” says Ainslie. “We have spaces that will lend themselves well for a wide variety of activities.”

Ongoing community support will ensure the continued day-to-day operation of Clara’s House, assuring that patients and families who seek care at Moore Regional will always have a nearby place of respite.

“Having Clara’s House open and available to the community is truly a physical representation of what our donors have supported throughout the years,” says Kathleen Stockham, president of the Foundation of FirstHealth, “taking care of people in their time of need and in an environment that is warm and comforting.”

The Clara McLean House at FirstHealth is sustained by community philanthropic support through the Foundation of FirstHealth. You can contribute through monetary donations, gifts in kind or volunteering.  For more information, please call (910) 695-7500.

The Woman behind “Clara’s House”

Forty years before a 1980s wordsmith coined the phase “glass ceiling,” Clara McLean was quietly shattering stereotypes in the men’s-only world of American business.

It was a life for which she seemingly was ill-prepared.

Clara McLean

The Clara McLean House at FirstHealth is named for businesswoman and philanthropist Clara McLean, shown here in a late-life photograph.

McLean was born in Maxton and grew up playing with her brothers and sisters on the family farm along the banks of the Lumber River. She attended Woman’s College in Greensboro (now UNC-G) with the intention of preparing herself for one of the handful of jobs – teacher perhaps or home economist – considered appropriate for women at the time.

She had a gift for numbers and management, though, and she could be tougher than she had any right to be, able to make hard decisions and unafraid of hard work. As a young woman just out of college, she had three jobs – with Carolina Power and Light, Maxton Seed and Feed and Maxton Presbyterian Church, where she served as secretary to the pastor.

Noting her unusual gifts, McLean’s older brother, Malcolm, spirited her away from the rural North Carolina life for which she had seemed destined – after asking their mother if it was all right – and dropped her into the decidedly unfeminine world of interstate trucking and container shipping.

A series of family ventures eventually took her to Mobile, Ala., and later to New York City, but McLean returned to her North Carolina roots when she retired. Instead of Maxton, though, she settled in Pinehurst, spending all but the last two years of her life in eight tastefully decorated rooms in the Carolina Hotel’s East Wing. She lived quietly but well among her antiques and art, much of it chosen by the woman with whom she developed a late-life mother-daughter relationship.

Artist and businesswoman Yvonne Snead knew McLean as smart and savvy with little use for obvious favor-seekers, but also saw that she could be soft-hearted and generous when convinced of a need.

“Her mama and daddy were people who helped people,” says Snead. “She was taught to be a generous person.”

The Boy Scouts of America, an organization that McLean thought turned boys into decent men, was a frequent object of her largesse. So were Habitat for Humanity, the American Red Cross and her hometown of Maxton, where she bought, renovated and donated to the local government a building that had housed the post office she associated with her mother, the assistant post mistress, and her father, a mailman.

She had a special fondness for the Foundation of FirstHealth, donating often and generously to various Foundation projects. The idea of a hospitality house at Moore Regional Hospital especially captured her imagination.

“She felt there was a need in this community for that,” Snead says. “I think she felt there was a definite need there.”

When the Foundation’s leadership approached her about naming the facility in her honor, McLean refused. She saw no need to put her name on things, instead preferring a quiet philanthropy.

“She thought the house was beautiful,” Snead says, “but she never took ownership. It was enough for her that the money she gave helped people. She didn’t need to have her name on a building.”

McLean eventually conceded to the naming request, but with the understanding that there would be no announcement until after her death, which occurred on Aug. 1, 2010, shortly after her 100th birthday.

The Clara McLean House at FirstHealth, known less formally as Clara’s House, will accept its first guests in April.


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