“I feel that everything that has happened has been for a reason. I have a very strong faith. I believe that I have been called into different things in my life for a reason. This is what I am supposed to be doing right now; this is how I am called to serve at this time. I look forward to meeting more members of the community and am grateful to be a resource to them”
-Mary Balistreri, province director of healthcare
Just over a year ago, Mary Balistreri began working at Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake serving as a health care resource to the SCJ community. She did so as an employee of St. Camillus Supportive Home Services. A registered nurse, Mary has an extensive background in gerontology, health care assessment and in-place health care assistance.
Her responsibilities at SHML were initially part-time; Mary’s primary job was to manage St. Camillus’ private duty component, overseeing the work of approximately 75 in-home caregivers, including healthcare aids and private duty nurses.
But quickly her time at SHML expanded from being present two days a week with the SCJ community to five days split between the lay residents and the religious.
Although there was some overlap, with the lay residents her role was primarily advisory. “A wellness nurse,” she said. Instead of hands-on nursing, Mary answered basic healthcare questions and helped residents find and utilize community resources for things such as in-home therapy and transportation. She answered questions about medications and helped residents determine when they needed to see their doctor.
With the SCJ community, much of her focus was on aging in-place; “determining what is needed to allow a person to be comfortable at home,” she said. With her help, the community brought one of its members back home after an extended period in nursing care. “I provided support that helped make that transition possible; making sure that we had right staff and training in place to manage his medical needs.”
A few months later, Fr. Charles Yost, SCJ, who had been struggling with significant health issues, made the decision to go into hospice care. With the help of Mary Balistreri, he received that care at home, where members of the community could be with him and support him in his final days.
It was the first time that a member of the community received hospice care at home.
“Journeying with people at the end of life is unlike any journey you will ever have,” said Mary. “It is an intimate journey, and each is unique. It is serious, but it can also be filled with humor. It can be a journey of great joy; people realize that they are going home. It is a gift and a privilege to be with someone during this journey.”
Her responsibilities at SHML continued to increase and so she so gave up her management duties with St. Camillus. Her primary focus would be at SHML, along with a few field projects from her St. Camillus supervisor.
At about this time Fr. Ed Kilianski, SCJ, provincial superior, attended a conference where he learned about the Jesuits’ approach to healthcare. The order’s Midwest Province has a healthcare director –– Jane Glynn-Nass –– to assist members of all ages, not just the retired. She meets with members regularly to answer questions and help each person assess his individual healthcare needs. For some, it is a matter of reminding the person of routine medical exams and tests. For others, it could involve education on management of a newly diagnosed condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, or adaptations needed to work with a body that might not be as mobile as it once was.
Fr. Ed asked Mary if she was aware of the program. Not only did she know of it, she also knew Jane. They had worked together at St. Camillus for many years; the Jesuits partner with St. Camillus for the healthcare needs of their elderly members. And before Fr. Ed spoke of the Jesuits’ healthcare program, Mary had already been thinking that the SCJs could benefit from something similar.
Fr. Ed asked Mary if St. Camillus might be open to having her travel throughout the province to meet with SCJs individually to help them assess their healthcare needs, much as Jane Glynn-Nass does with members of the Jesuits’ Midwest Province.
Camillus was open to the option, but then Fr. Ed proposed that instead of working for St. Camillus, Mary would work fulltime as healthcare director for the US Province. He asked her to develop a proposal and speak to the council. Drawing on several resources she created a job description of what she envisioned the role to look like.
The council discussed the proposal with her in July; she was offered the job soon after and became the province healthcare director in early August.
“Things have moved fast, but I feel that everything that has happened has been for a reason,” she said. “I have a very strong faith. I believe that I have been called into different things in my life for a reason. Many people asked why I stayed at St. Camillus for so many years. I can only say that it was where I felt that should have been, where I was called to be. And now, that call is different. This is what I am supposed to be doing right now; this is how I am called to serve at this time.”
So far, much of her work continues to be at SHML. She, other members of the SHML staff and community members share in assisting elderly members of the community, being with them at medical appointments and ensuring that they have the help they need to continue to live comfortably at home in community. She is often an advocate when an SCJ is in the hospital, and like a family member, assists in the transition process when he returns home. A surrogate daughter-in-law.
“One of the toughest things for any of us to lose is independence,” said Mary. “I respect the independence of the members and know that for some, acknowledging and allowing for assistance is very difficult. But when they realize that they need help I let them know that I am here for them.”
Mary describes herself as a “cheerleader for aging in place.” After reviewing the results of a survey done by the Province Senior Life Commission she believes that most members of the province resonate with this. “Most of us want to be at home.”
In the months ahead she will be working with province leadership to develop her role beyond SHML. Fr. Ed will speak about it during the upcoming visitations.
“Preventative medicine, staying active, making sure that baseline check-ups are done as needed, ensuring that each of the members has established a relationship with a doctor, has filled out and/or updated necessary documents, these are some of the things that I expect to focus on in the months ahead,” she said. “I look forward to meeting more members of the community and am grateful to be a resource to them.”