Seminar on Tuesday will focus on end-of-life issues

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 16 May 2016 at 12:00 am

Vendors, speakers will cover range of topics

Photo courtesy of Photos by Bruce – Gwen St. John, center, is pictured with her daughters, Cheryl Chladek, left, and Karen Sawicz. St. John, former owner of the Lake Country Pennysaver and a registered nurse, died on Feb. 25 at age 88 after fighting cancer and other illnesses.

ALBION – A seminar on Tuesday from 6 to 9 p.m. at Hoag Library will explore end-of-life care issues that many people are reluctant to consider.

The Albion Rotary Club has organized the seminar that will include a vendor fair from 6 to 8 p.m. Many businesses and agencies will be available to discuss their services including representatives from nursing homes, Hospice, Brigden Memorials, assisted care facilities, funeral homes, Mount Albion Cemetery, Office for the Aging, a bank that provides long-term care insurance, Medina Memorial Hospital and other service providers.

After the vendor fair, several speakers will then share advice and their experiences from 8 to 9 p.m.

Local attorney Sanford Church will discuss advanced directives, John Zonitch will highlight Medicaid Law with nursing home admissions, Scott Schmidt will bring a coroner’s perspective to unattended deaths, Susie Miller from the Office for the Aging will talk about a PRI (Patient Review Instrument), and Karen Sawicz will offer advice from a caregiver’s perspective.

“People don’t want to think about that their parent or that they themselves will come into this situation,” said Grace Denniston, a retired Office for the Aging director and Rotary Club member who helped plan Tuesday’s seminar. “Taking care of some of the issues can make it so much easier for the survivors.”

Denniston suggests pre-paying for a funeral, buying a cemetery plot and gravestone.

There are many issues for the caregivers, and Sawicz will share advice learned from five years of managing her mother’s health care.

Sawicz is president of the Rotary Club. She pushed to have the seminar on Tuesday after realizing there was so much she didn’t know in caring for her mother, Gwen St. John, who had her first surgery for cancer in March 2011. She battled other illnesses until her death at age 88 on Feb. 25 at the Martin-Linsin Residence of Hospice of Orleans.

St. John was a dynamic woman who earned her degree as a registered nurse in 1948 from Rochester General Hospital. She worked many years at the former Arnold Gregory Memorial Hospital in Albion. She maintained her license until she was 82.

In 1960, she and her husband Vince purchased the Albion-Holley Pennysaver, which they jointly operated until their retirement in 1989. Sawicz has been running the operation since, and serves as publisher of the Pennysaver and the Orleans Hub.

Sawicz was a caregiver for her mother, and organized schedules for home healthcare aides. Her mother was able to stay at her home on Route 279 before moving to Hospice for the final week of her life.

Sawicz had help in hiring home health aides, and planning their work schedules from a friend in the health care field. Sawicz fielded calls from the aides who would share her mother’s condition.

“You have to learn your patient,” she said. “You don’t call the ambulance or doctor every time.”

Sawicz and the aides learned St. Johns baseline temperature, about 97 degrees. If her temperature was 100, that was a worrisome sign. Her mother didn’t tolerate antibiotics well, and her sodium level would plummet.

Sawicz kept records and showed doctors the documentation about how her mother responded to medicine. She often would seek clarification from doctors, making sure they understood her mother’s patient history.

“You need to be assertive and ask questions,” Sawicz said. “Don’t be nasty but be assertive.”

Sawicz kept her mother’s medical history on her SmartPhone. She would suggest people do the same, or print it out on paper so it’s easily accessible when filling out numerous medical forms and meeting with doctors.

Sawicz said she was fortunate to have a supportive family and employees, who would step in at a moment’s notice when she had to care for her mother. St. John battled cancer, a stress fracture, dementia and other health issues. Dementia was the worst to endure because her mother was robbed of her sweet disposition and personality, Sawicz said.

“We just want to help people think about planning,” Sawicz said about the seminar. “It will make things a little easier because people don’t want to talk about death.”