Life Goes On

Nov. 11-17, 2004
VOL 123 NO. 40
Life Goes On
By Eileen Jevis/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
When elderly people are no longer able to live at home, families face the difficult challenge of finding a new home for them –– one that is safe, comfortable and allows them to practice their faith and to keep their sense of self. There are assisted living facilities, nursing homes and residences across the diocese where staff and family work to make that happen.

St. Joseph’s Nursing Home in Utica, run by the Carmelite Sisters for the Aged and Infirm, provides skilled nursing care and meets the day-to-day needs of 120 residents. Edna Cook, a 93-year-old retired Utica School teacher, has been a resident of St. Joseph’s for six months. However, after visiting her sister at the residence on a daily basis for 16 years, she was very familiar with the facility. “The care she received was excellent,” said Edna. “Because I was so familiar with the place, I had no trouble adjusting.”

Edna said she doesn’t like to participate in many of the social activities. She is happy spending her time doing what she loves to do –– read. “That’s what I did at home and that’s what I do here,” said Edna. “At night, I read in the bathroom so that I don’t disturb my roommate. She pays half the rent, you know, so she’s entitled.” Edna admits that it was difficult to give up her personal possessions when she arrived at the nursing home. “But it had to be done,” she said. “There’s nothing else I really miss about my home.”

Ninety-four year-old Violet Valente has been a resident at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home for three years. She was transferred to the nursing home after a hospital stay. “When I came here, I came with the impression I would only be here four or five months,” said Violet. “I was happy living alone. But the staff tries to make you feel comfortable and provides activities that make you feel better,” she said. Violet is fortunate that her sister lives at the residence also. Violet’s faith is very important to her. St. Joseph’s offers daily Mass, which she attends frequently. Each Tuesday, a rosary prayer service takes place on each floor. Father David Sambor offers the sacrament of reconciliation as well as celebrating Mass. The Carmelite Sisters are available 24 hours a day, every day. Because their residence is attached to the nursing home, they are quickly available to provide spiritual and emotional support or comfort to those who are ill or dying. The six sisters on staff fill a variety of roles including medical expertise, social services support, activities coordination and pastoral care. Sister Patricia Markey, O. Carm, FNP, said that close to 40 percent of the residents participate in religious services. In addition to the daily Mass, there is monthly adoration and a Protestant service.

Ruth Kennedy is a former Syracuse resident who has lived at St. Joseph’s Nursing Home for one year. Born in 1900, Ruth grew up on the west side of Syracuse and attended Most Holy Rosary and St. Ann’s Churches. Ruth graduated from Syracuse University and spends much of her time watching SU sports. Football is her favorite. “I like the care and friendliness here,” said Ruth. She attends Mass every day and advises newcomers on how to adjust to their new situation.

Cheryl Pytel, director of marketing strategies, said that the nursing home staff tries to create a family environment. “When the residents come for the first time, they receive balloons and a welcome sign,” said Pytel. “On their birthdays, they receive balloons and flowers.” Pytel said it’s important to remember the patients are adults. “We don’t treat them at a lesser age just because on a cognitive level they are impaired,” she said. Silva Malvasi, director of Sedgwick Heights Adult Home, an affiliate of Loretto in Syracuse, said that while patients aren’t always happy to be admitted, they adjust rather quickly due to the familiar surroundings of their neighborhood. Sedgwick is an adult home and assisted living residence that offers supportive housing combined with home care services for medically eligible adults. Sedgwick Heights was the former Dinkler Hotel, a popular hotel and restaurant that offered live music. “Many of these residents probably ate here,” said Malvasi. “Or came to listen to the jazz bands.” The residents adjust to their new home by decorating their rooms with their own belongings. “Just because they’ve given up their homes doesn’t mean they’ve given up their lives,” said Malvasi. “In some ways, they gain independence when they move in. We increase their interaction with the benefits of communal living. They don’t have to be lonely.” Malvasi also said that living in an assisted living setting improves the quality of life because it offers opportunities the elderly wouldn’t have at home, such as good nutrition, supervision of medicines, laundry services and housekeeping. In addition to meeting the domestic needs of the residents, the staff at Sedgwick Heights, aware that the north side neighborhood is deeply rooted in their faith, offers weekly Masses for Catholics as well as weekly Protestant services and communion services.

The residents worship in a small corner of the community room at a table set up with a statue of the Blessed Mother, the Sacred Heart of Jesus and a crucifix. While it’s not a very sacred place to worship, the staff is trying to change that. “We would like to install a stained glass window near the worship space,” said Malvesi. “We are also looking for some pews and an altar.” Kenneth and Norine Crary have been living at the residence for three and four years respectively. “We are trying very hard to make this our home,” said Norine. “We brought our Sacred Heart statue from home and donated it for the chapel,” she said. The Crarys, one of the few married couples at the residence, have adjusted well to their new surroundings. Angie Reese, a 75-year-old resident, found it difficult to leave her own home and her friends from the neighborhood. A life-long resident of Syracuse, Angie moved into Sedgwick Heights four years ago. “I’d rather be living in my own home,” she said. “But I have a lot of friends here. When my husband died, my daughters wanted me to go live with them. I told them no. I like it here.” Angie is grateful that she has the opportunity to go to Mass as often as she’d like. “I make a point of going to Mass every week,” she said. “In fact, I went three times this week because of the holy days.”

Residents at Loretto’s J. Stanley Coyne Heritage Apartments worship in the chapel built in1926 which was part of original rest home constructed by the Syracuse Diocese. Loretto offers assisted living, enriched housing and a managed care program for its 80 residents. “Most of the patients here come directly from their own home or the home of their child,” said Mary Coenig, director of the facility. “Taking them out of their environment can cause patients to decline, both physically and mentally,” she said. “Some bounce back, but we expect the anxiousness and agitation.” Coenig said the patients experience a sense of loss and have an unrealistic view of their own capabilities of independence. “We’ve had residents move in here after their home has burned down or when they’ve wandered outside and have been out there all night,” said Coenig, The issues of adjustment often pertain to the family members, explained Coenig. “Families come to us with a tremendous amount of guilt. Most of them come to us when they are at the end of their rope. They know it’s time to move them out of the family home for safety reasons.” Loss of space is also more of an issue for the family members than the residents. “The residents get comfortable with a smaller space and they get to know it well,” said Coenig. “This environment becomes their comfort zone. Often, when the family takes them out for a holiday, the resident will suffer from sensory overload and confusion. They are often back here within two or three hours.”

In addition to providing medical care for their patients and providing a safe and secure environment, Heritage Apartments offers a tranquil setting for worship. “Faith is a huge issue for our residents,” said Coenig. “It’s very important to them. It’s one of those things they don’t lose interest in, even if they can’t participate.” Coenig said that many of the residents visit the chapel because it offers comfort and quiet. “They can go in and just be,” she said. Like the other residences, Heritage Apartments offers weekly Catholic and Protestant services as well as rosary services. “We try to accommodate them in their faith because faith is very important to them, especially for people of this generation,” said Coenig.

At Bishop’s Commons Assisted Living Residence at St. Luke’s in Oswego, Karen Murray is not only the executive director but also an Extraordinary Minister of the Eucharist as well. Murray offers communion to the residents each Friday morning while resident priest, Father John Daley, celebrates weekly Mass. Bi-weekly rosary services are also conducted. Anne Beardslee, an 85-year-old resident, is a retired fourth grade teacher from the Oswego School District. As an active Catholic, she participates in the rosary services and attends Mass each week in the second floor parlor. As a past parishioner of St. Mary’s and St. John the Evangelist Churches in Oswego, Beardslee is appreciative of the fact that the residence offers her opportunities to practice her faith. She moved there after living with her daughter in Hyannis, Mass. “In a way it was exciting to go to someplace new,” said Anne. “But I was sad to have to leave my cat behind.”

Catherine Butler, age 89, said the thing she misses most about not being in her own home is the lack of space and being part of a neighborhood. “I was in my house for 60 years,” said Catherine. “I watched out for my neighbors. I miss everyone.” It’s a difficult adjustment to make,” agreed Murray. “Homes represent more than a building. They represent family, joys, disappointments and memories. It’s a known, familiar environment and leaving that can be frightening, unnerving. But this generation has an incredible resiliency,” said Murray. They’ve lived through two World Wars and several others, the Great Depression, the death of spouses and family members and a host of other difficult and challenging life experiences. Those experiences have strengthened their faith and given them knowledge to draw upon to help them adjust to new situations.

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