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April 2000

Edward C. Weeks -
Undisputed Health Care Innovator

by Joseph RADDER

When Ed Weeks was growing up in Lockport in the 1940s he had no clue that some day he would be recognized nationally for his health care innovations.

His parents had migrated from Long Island to Lockport during the depression. They didn’t want to leave their beloved Bay Shore but they had no choice. Jobs were few and far between in those depression years, and if Ed’s Dad wanted to keep his job he had to move to Western New York.

Ed’s annual summer highlight in those days was to return to Bay Shore and Sag Harbor where he could go clamming, fishing and boating. And he did just that every summer during World War II. Fortunately, his grandparents still lived there and they welcomed him and his brothers and sisters with open arms as soon as the school year ended.

“I had an absolute ball there,” Ed Weeks recalls. And learning how to open clams and put on a clambake served him well in later years. “Clambakes were not an every day occurrence in Western New York in those days. In fact, they aren’t a big thing even today. I was happy that my parents brought this grand Long Island tradition with them and taught me.”

One lasting unpleasant childhood memory concerns his dog, Sparky, who came with him after one summer in Long Island. Sparky was killed while chasing cars. It was Ed’s first real loss of something close to him. However, mostly all of his other childhood memories are happy ones.

“While I was a Western New Yorker by birth,” says Weeks, “My father never lost his Long Island attachment or his ‘twang’. This was most evident in the way he pronounced certain words ... ‘poisson’ for person, oil was ‘erl’ and coins were ‘kerns’.”

When it came time to go to college, Ed decided to stay in the Buffalo area and was accepted at UB, where he majored in physical therapy with a minor in psychology. These two disciplines in combination would serve him well in later life in his work with the elderly.

Ed’s best college memories center on his short-lived career as a football player, which ended when he tore cartilage in his leg. He then discovered the less strenuous but very rewarding arena of extra-curricular student activities. This new-found interest eventually led to his becoming the Managing Editor of the student newspaper, the UB Spectrum.

“I never was a scholar,” Weeks admits, “but who says C students don’t make it?

After graduating from UB in 1957, Ed found employment as a substitute teacher in the Buffalo School system. He soon inherited a class at School 29 in South Buffalo—and taught that class for almost a full year. “What did this experience teach you?” we asked. Without hesitation he answered “It taught me I should never be a full time school teacher.”

Ed married Margaret M. Reddington in February 1958. They had met in the summer of 1956. After the year of teaching, Ed took a temporary job as a graphic artist at the Colad Company, a book cover manufacturer, where his wife worked in the office. He was awaiting the inevitable letter from the Selective Service System. The letter arrived in September 1958 and he was promptly inducted into the U.S. Army.

During his two year hitch in the Army, he wanted to use his college training as a physical therapist. But, as the Army is wont to do, they sent him to Ft. Hood, Texas, an infantry base. There, while on maneuvers, he learned how to sleep on the cold steel floor of an armored personnel carrier (to avoid the snakes and other crawling creatures on the ground).

Weeks did well on the rifle range and so, after basic training, he was sent to Munich, Germany, as a sniper.

“I wrote letters to the authorities asking to be reassigned, without any results. Finally, I went to my Commanding Officer and said: Here I am with a college degree in physical therapy and I’m assigned as a sniper. Does that make sense?” It worked and soon Ed found himself at the 98th General Hospital in Neubrucke Germany, reassigned as a physical therapist. This was the beginning of a 40-year career caring for others.

In those days, the Army allowed families to live with their servicemen overseas, and so Mrs. Weeks came over. Their first son, Sean, was born in Neubrucke. As a result, he has dual citizenship.

During his stint in Germany, Ed Weeks achieved the rank of Specialist 4. He was assigned to the hospital Burn Center and later published a paper on the use of physical therapy in burn treatment.

After his honorable discharge from the Army in 1960, Ed became a physical therapist at Mercy Hospital. During the evening he worked at St. Joseph’s Inter-Community Hospital. Subsequently, he left Mercy Hospital and went to work at the Niagara Lutheran Nursing Home, where he established a physical therapy department. It was here that he had his first close-up experience with death. “A patient collapsed while practicing stair climbing. He died in my arms.”

There were also many pleasant experiences. It was here that he got the idea to use an Army parachute harness to help stroke patients stand upright. Many of the patients who used this device had not been in a vertical position for a long, long time. They were thrilled to be able to stand up, even with this unique assistance.

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At Niagara Lutheran Nursing Home in the early 60’s, Ed invented a way to help stroke patients stand upright, using an Army parachute harness.

In 1961 the Niagara Lutheran Nursing Home persuaded him to come with them on a full time basis as assistant administrator. After three years at Niagara Lutheran, he accepted an offer to be administrator of the Carlton Nursing Home.

He stayed at Carlton until 1975, when he was asked to try to help a nursing home in Niagara County get out of trouble. They had a number of serious deficiencies. “It took us 18 months,” Weeks said “but we did indeed turn it around.”

Having achieved stability for the facility, Weeks returned to Buffalo in 1976 to become administrator of the Episcopal Church Home on Rhode Island Street. It wasn’t long before the board named him executive director.

Here he directed the newly opened residential health care facility and successfully guided it through its early development. He also oversaw the adult care facility, which was established in 1858. He was instrumental in merging the Church Home and Brent Manor, creating the beginning of Episcopal Community Housing Inc.

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Ed Weeks, his daughter Patricia Weeks O’Connor and Mason Bowen, a founder of Episcopal Community Housing Inc., at a NYAHSA meeting.

Now President and CEO, Ed Weeks put his talent for innovation on a fast track. In 1977 he established the first respite program in Western New York. This is a program designed to give family caregivers a break. Patients spend two or more weeks at the Episcopal Church Home while the caregivers enjoy a much-needed respite.

The following year the home established the first long-term home health care program in New York State ... “A nursing home without walls.” Under this program nurses, home health care aides and other health professionals visit patients in their homes once or twice a week, more often if necessary, and for as long as is necessary to provide basic nursing services. This program currently serves over 300 people in Erie County.

In 1981 the Episcopal Church Home, under Ed Weeks’ direction, established the first adult day health care program in Erie County. This program allows patients to live at home, and come in on an outpatient basis.Transportation is also provided.

Until l987 it was common practice for nursing homes to restrain patients who were experiencing behavioral problems or deteriorating mental capacity. Ed Weeks heard of a program where patients could be free of restraints, kept in their chairs by positioning. They found that a patient in a chair tipped back slightly could not get out of the chair without help. In other words, gravity did the job formerly done by restraints and the Episcopal Church Home, as reported in the New York Times, became the first restraint-free nursing home in New York State.

Another first, a year or two later, was the Intergenerational Child Care Center—again the first in Western New York. This started with infants and pre-schoolers, primarily employees’ children. Its unique feature is that time is set aside for the children to interact with the elderly residents. “The young and old have a large capacity for love,” Weeks says. “Put the widely separated generations together and that love is manifest.”

Weeks tells a heart-warming story about a loving incident of role reversal in this program. “One time, prior to Easter, the children and the nursing home residents were coloring eggs together. One of the elderly residents picked up a glass of purple egg dye, thinking it was grape juice.” Before she could drink it the little girl who was with her stopped her saying ‘No! No! You mustn’t drink that!’”

In 1990, the home care program was expanded to include patients with HIV/AIDS. This was the period when AIDS had reached epidemic proportions. The Episcopal Church Home nurses were providing home care to 70 or 80 AIDS patients at that time. Today the number is down to 30 or 40 thanks to national advances in medication and therapy.

Ed Weeks’ most recent and perhaps greatest idea was his dream to build a complete life care community ... a facility wherein the elderly could enjoy independent living and, if needed later, asssisted living and skilled nursing care ... all on one campus.

The original idea was to build a high-rise building adjacent to the Episcopal Church Home on Rhode Island Street. However, a feasibility study brought out the fact that while possible, this land-locked site was not as suitable as were other locations. Instead, the consultants recommended Amherst as an ideal location and found a beautiful 64 acre site ... the Jurek tree farm ... the perfect setting for a series of low-rise buildings.

After lengthy negotiation, the land was purchased and planning got underway for what is now the beautiful facility known as Canterbury Woods. Award-winning architects were selected, financing was obtained with ECIDA bonds, and an intensive marketing program was launched to carry the message to potential residents.

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Ed Weeks and a scale model of Canterbury Woods.

Today, Canterbury Woods stands as living proof of Ed Weeks’ creativity and dedication. Now home to several hundred seniors, Canterbury Woods offers one and two bedroom apartment homes, each with a fully-equipped kitchen and bath, carpeting, washer and dryer, window treatments, and spacious closets. There are three dining areas where meals prepared by world-class chefs are served. Ed Weeks is very proud of the food at Canterbury Woods. “We’ve cornered the market on lamb chops” he said.

Other amenities include a pool, exercise room, and a putting green.

On the same campus is Oxford Village with enriched (assisted) living apartments and skilled nursing suites.

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Left: Al Caffiero, one of Western New York’s pre-eminent Physical Therapists. Right: Ed Weeks, one of Caffiero’s best friends.

The resident never has to worry about costs because lifetime care is included in the one-time entrance fee. That fee is 90% refundable, protecting the resident’s estate.

Canterbury Woods newest brochure reads “Fulfillment is the philosophy behind Canterbury Woods’ exciting and special lifestyle. Here smiling comes easy and laughing comes naturally.”

It’s no wonder that Ed Weeks has received many awards and honors including the Lawrence E. Larson award, the highest honor awarded by the New York State Association of Homes and Services to the Aging.

Ed’s family in Lockport, his wife Alana and nine children (four from his first marriage and five stepchildren) as well as his four grandchildren, are indeed proud of him. Western New York can be proud and pleased as well that Ed Weeks chose to stay here and contribute so much to our lifestyles.

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Ed and his wife, Alana, line dancing.


Joseph Radder is a freelance writer.


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