Ten years ago, we celebrated the opening of the Thomas Glasser Caregivers Center with the hope that it would provide much-needed comfort and support to the increasing numbers of families caring for critically, chronically, or terminally ill loved ones.  Today, we proudly celebrate the thousands of lives that have been forever touched by what they’ve experienced here…because of your generosity.

I cannot tell you how incredibly important it is to have a center like this,” said one woman whose husband was admitted to Overlook’s Neuro Intensive Care Unit after suffering a brain hemorrhage and a stroke. “I’ll never forget the kindness extended to me and my family during an extremely difficult time.  I feel like I’m part of a family now.”

“Thank you so much for providing a quiet, peaceful and sympathetic environment for families and caregivers when we are dazed and confused,” wrote another.  “You are giving people the best gift they could receive during difficult times.”

Each year, more than 1,500 families, like yours, turn to the Caregivers Center staff for guidance in managing the stress and special needs associated with caring for loved ones hospitalized at Overlook or at home in our communities.  Many view it as an onsite oasis – a tranquil place just steps away from a loved one’s bedside, where they can meet privately, decompress, get a cup of coffee, have a bite to eat, check email and conduct online research, or simply relax in a massage chair.  

Aside from its physical amenities, the Center offers complimentary relaxation therapies such as mindful meditation, Qigong, and Tai Chi; art, music, and pet therapy; child life services for young visitors; a Community Resource Library connecting caregivers with critical resources; spiritual care; and bereavement support.  Open seven days a week, it is staffed by a full-time, licensed clinical social worker, a caregiver liaison, pet therapy teams and specially trained volunteers who regularly visit other areas of the medical center – such as intensive care unit waiting areas – where caregivers and loved ones often need support and guidance.

Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, the Caregivers Center staff has been challenged to provide those services and more. When limitations on visitors and gatherings were imposed throughout the state, staff members at the Caregivers Center quickly adopted virtual strategies to support and comfort families of COVID-positive patients through their darkest days.  Music and expressive writing workshops, QiGong and Tai Chi were offered via Zoom. Marian Teehan, a licensed clinical social worker, and Valerie Gagliano, a Caregivers Center liaison, telephoned and FaceTimed with families, provided bereavement support for those who lost loved ones, and even assisted with funeral arrangements.

Last July, the Center partnered with Overlook’s Palliative Care Program to produce a video memorial service, honoring patients and hospital team members who lost their lives during the spring 2020 pandemic surge.

“Families called and wrote to tell us how much it meant to see the doctors, nurses, and all of the caring staff at Overlook honor their loved ones in such a beautiful way,” says Marian. One family, who made a gift of gratitude in memory of their 88-year-old mother, wrote:

“We are so grateful for the kindness and humanity your staff showed during what was then the frantic and frightening phase of the pandemic. The numerous calls to check up on her and the call backs that I received were what kept us all informed…I heard from the nurses that they prayed with her, held her hand, and read the letter [I wrote to her] over and over…all this while they were busy and exhausted with an overload of COVID patients.  They knew she was afraid to be alone…I would like to recognize the Bereavement Consortium, Valerie Gagliano and Marian Teehan. They have stayed in touch with me and sent several letters and grief support, which has been very helpful. I got to know Valerie last summer as they were putting the finishing touches on the amazingly beautiful and moving memorial video.  You are lucky to have so many dedicated individuals under one roof.  We are so grateful for all of them.  Every single person showed such compassion and grace.”

Whether you’ve been a caregiver, a patient, a visitor, or attended one of our classes, screenings, or support groups, you, too, have been touched by Overlook’s extraordinary culture of caring. It’s the kind of caring that embraces the latest technologies to improve patient care and outcomes.  The kind of caring that puts state-of-the-art treatment in the hands of talented, compassionate healthcare professionals.  The kind of caring that combines leading edge medicine with holistic health, wellness, and support services that heal both patients and their families.  It’s the kind of caring you expect and deserve in your backyard!

The Thomas Glasser Caregivers Center: Inspired by and Built for Our Community of Caregivers

How the Thomas Glasser Caregivers Center evolved into an oasis of love and support for so many families is a story for the ages. It begins with one man’s own caregiving experience and his vision that inspired a medical center and a community to develop a center exclusively for caregivers.

When Claude Fusco lost his wife Kathryn in 2006 after her long battle with cancer, he and his three children found themselves reeling not only from the pain of her death, but the toll her lengthy illness had taken on all of them.  They knew more could be done to help the countless caregivers whose days are filled with physical and emotional stress. 

In 2009, the Westfield resident approached the Overlook Foundation with an idea for a space within the hospital where caregivers could take a break from the sometimes harsh clinical reality of a patient’s bedside.  The Foundation shared the idea with Overlook’s President Alan Lieber, who agreed that creating a caregivers center was perfectly aligned with the medical center’s commitment to provide a healing culture for patients and families. He created an advisory committee to examine the proposal and, before long, an ideal space was identified and the project was off and running.  

A patient’s family and friends gathered in the Thomas Glasser Caregivers Center to await the outcome of a complex surgery.

In early 2010, the Foundation kicked off a $2.5 million capital campaign to fund the construction of the facility as well as an endowment to sustain the program. As word about the planned Caregivers Center spread, the community rallied wholeheartedly around the project.  The late Gerald J. Glasser, Ph.D., a former trustee and chairman of the Overlook Foundation board of trustees, pledged a leadership gift in the form of a challenge grant to encourage additional philanthropic support for the center.  Gerry’s gift would come from the Glasser Foundation, created in memory of his son Thomas, who died in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.  Soon enough, support followed from other organizations, corporations, individuals, the Overlook Auxiliary, Overlook’s Medical Staff, Overlook employees, and many others.

As the physical assets of the Caregivers Center began to take shape, so too did the programs and services it would offer.  Marian Teehan, MSW, LCSW, was recruited to serve as the center’s full-time clinical social worker.  Volunteers were recruited and trained to provide support and encouragement to family members in critical care areas, patient units, and those visiting the center.

On June 23, 2011, Claude’s vision became a reality AND the first in-hospital facility of its kind in New Jersey. In July 2021, Overlook Medical Center celebrated the 10th anniversary of the Caregivers Center and another decade of an Extraordinary Kind of Caring!

As COVID-19 variants and limitations on visitors continue to pose challenges for patients and families, the staff at the Caregivers Center is poised to adapt and serve the needs of caregivers both within and beyond our walls.  This Fall, families of discharged patients will be offered ongoing support through a Stay-In-Touch program. Virtual resources and guidance will be expanded for all homebased caregivers in our communities.

“People need not feel that they are alone in their caregiving role,” remarks Marian.  “We are always here to help.”