TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Sherry Saturno's six-year experience working with the chronically ill in nursing homes has inspired her research in health care solutions and a recently-awarded Social Work Leadership in Palliative and End of Life Care Fellowship at New York University will help move her vision forward.
Saturno, a Tarrytown resident who works as a New York program director for Beacon Health Strategies, will be researching health-care solutions and services for the elderly and chronically ill through 2015.
"I was motivated to research end-of-life care and chronic illness from having worked in nursing homes," Saturno said. "Speaking with and learning from the residents there on a daily basis was a remarkable experience. I saw the absolute best in people - family members, residents, nurses, and physicians. These residents were living with dying, and yet so many of them were full of life, humor, and good will. They were inspirational and I would like to share their stories to help others in similar situations."
Saturno was named the Social Worker of the Year in 2012 for the State of New York by the National Association of Social Workers, as well as a Rising Star by the Business Council of Westchester for her work in health care. She said the growing number of elderly living with chronic illness is a major health-care challenge,
"It is estimated that four out of five older adults are living with a chronic illness," Saturno said. "With a longer life expectancy and improvements in medical care, many Americans will face a chronic illness at some point in their lives. These conditions may include diabetes, high blood pressure, and cancer. The impact for elders living with a chronic illness includes higher rates of hospitalization, frequent trips to the emergency room, as well as difficulty with activities of daily living."
Saturno was raised in the Hudson Valley and has earned master's degrees from Columbia University School of Social Work and Long Island University School of Management and Public Service. She is certified as a project manager through Stanford University, and completed Boston University's Center for Aging, Disability Education, and Research Foundation in Aging Certification. She is also a licensed clinical social worker and completed the courses and fieldwork required to become eligible to take the nursing-home administrator licensing exam.
Saturno said many chronically ill seniors find getting out of bed and climbing down the stairs impossible and the of lack medical insurance or gaps in the coverage make home care difficult to afford.
"(The elderly) may not be able to live independently, but cannot afford a home health aide to assist them in their own home," Saturno said. "Families may struggle with how to best approach end of life planning. It is a difficult conversation, but the best time to plan is while you are still healthy. This way you are taking control of your own medical treatment, and the planning will respect your own values."
Saturno's passion to help the elderly achieve a better quality of life in their health care and end-of-life planning brings knowledge necessary to every family facing their personal challenges. She suggests Advance Directives - instructions letting others know what type of care you would like to receive if you become seriously ill or are dying. These include a Health Care Proxy, a Living Will, and Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) documentation."
"Families may struggle with how to best approach end of life planning," she said. "It is a difficult conversation, but the best time to plan is while you are still healthy. This way you are taking control of your own medical treatment, and the planning will respect your own values. Your family and those closest to you will have comfort in that they are honoring your wishes. There is no right or wrong plan, only what is right for you."