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Carol Marie DeRienzo was used to being on the other side of the sick bed.
But when the veteran nurse became a patient a dozen years ago, DeRienzo gained an unexpected insight – and an idea that led to a new career path and business.
In 2003, 12 years ago, I had back surgery,” said DeRienzo in a recent interview with the Caregiving Chronicles blog at the BayPath Elder Services offices in Marlborough. “I was a school nurse in Clinton. I had back surgery and a couple of things happened. It was kind of a pivotal time in my life. I could no longer work as a school nurse for a year post-surgery.
“I came home from surgery and the limitations that caused really set in on me. I couldn’t use most of my home,” DeRienzo continued. “I was lucky enough that my husband [John DeRienzo] happened to have a construction company, so he was able to modify the house to accommodate my needs and I started to work for him.”
DeRienzo knew not everyone recovering from a serious injury or dealing with a chronic illness was so fortunate. So she came up with the idea of combining her nursing knowledge with her husband’s carpentry skills to form a new business. The result was Solace RNovations, Inc.
“He was doing a lot of medical buildouts, so I liaisoned between the doctors, nurses, medical staff and the construction workers,” said DeRienzo. “I learned about the ADA and things of that nature and we were starting to get some referrals for our residential side of the business from those doctors. What I came to realize in that time is that contractors are very well meaning people, but sometimes they don’t have the knowledge base to know how a person with a chronic illness not only looks today, but how they will look tomorrow. What they do is construct for today, without understanding the needs of tomorrow.
“We thought there is a better way to do this, and we came up with Solace.”
Solace RNovations, Inc. is based in Northborough, but serves the entire Bay State with a special focus on MetroWest.
“We do all of Massachusetts, but our primary focus is MetroWest, extending on either side to a degree,” said DeRienzo. “I’ve also done a lot of work on the Cape because some of our clients have summer homes.”
The company offers a wide range of services to modify homes for all sorts of special needs.
“We go from potty chair to wheelchair, so that everybody can use it to the best of their ability,” said DeRienzo, who serves as a member of the BayPath Elder Services Board of Directors. “That’s how we try to design a space, with attention to somebody that might have some special needs, but they also have family members who also need to use the space, so we try to make that space work for everybody.”
For individuals looking to renovate their homes for themselves or a loved one with special needs due to an illness or health condition, DeRienzo offers a few points of advice.
“If your loved one is in rehab, if they can start the process as soon as possible they should, because sometimes things can take a long time to accomplish,” she said. “We’ve also had clients pre-plan, renovating a home so they could stay there a long time. Pre-planning is always a good thing, and that’s the No. 1 thing I try to tell people. Start to think now.”
DeRienzo also strives to help people make realistic decisions in modifying their homes.
“I try to tell people about obstacles that exist in their home now and sometimes they come up with ideas that [aren’t feasible] – and that’s what makes us a little different,” said DeRienzo. “Sometimes I actually turn work away. I tell people, I know this is the home that you love, but unfortunately to make this work for you going forward the money you’re going to have to spend is astronomical. And we won’t spend a person’s money at all unless we feel they’re going to get benefit out of it.”
Modifying a home can be an expensive proposition, but there are some sources of funding available and DeRienzo tries to help inform potential clients of those options.
“We do help with a lot of resources for funding as well,” said DeRienzo. “That’s another piece of what we offer. We work with the VA grants, the Home Modification Loan Program, a number of organizations like the MS Society does have grants as well. We try to pool money for clients, especially when needed.”
DeRienzo offers other advice about potential renovations as well.
“I do a seminar in what to look for in a contractor and in resources for funding,” said DeRienzo, who noted that information about upcoming seminars is posted on the company’s Facebook page. “Make sure that your contractor has insurance and licenses and that you always work with a contract. That’s always a very important thing because there are a number of issues going forward, especially in a senior population, where they get taken advantage of. There’s that phone call or knock on the door telling you that you need a new roof when you don’t. So the first thing I always tell people is if you didn’t call them, don’t let them in.
“We tell people to get themselves educated,” added DeRienzo. “If they need our help to do that, we’re happy to do that as well, but most people get educated on the process before coming to us. That’s in a pre-planning situation. In an emergency situation, they don’t have that opportunity.”
Besides DeRienzo’s seminars, there are also other sources of information available.
“Your building inspector is always a good place to start,” said DeRienzo. “They’re very knowledgeable and helpful. Talk to friends and relatives that have had remodels done. In an emergency situation, you can ask your healthcare professionals is they know of anybody. BayPath is always a good referral service that I often refer to to help people get started in the process.”