Spring 2010
A Wink and A Smile
A Wink and A Smile

Through the years: Frank Olenski served in the Navy during World War II and then met his sweetheart, Eleanor. The couple married in 1949.

Frank Olenski of Shelton loved birthday cake. And anniversary cake, and wedding cake—and just about any type of cake connected to a family celebration. “Dad always looked forward to family parties, and loved being with his five children and grandchildren,” remembers his younger daughter, Gloria DeBernardo, also of Shelton.

Frank also loved his country—he was a proud World War II Navy veteran. A local businessman for more than 30 years, he founded a second business in retirement and volunteered in the community. Frank and his wife, Eleanor, “lived the American Dream,” says Gloria.

But when Frank entered his mid-80s, his outgoing personality disappeared. “He became very anxious, difficult and self-absorbed. He didn’t want to be around his family, and if we did convince him to join us at a family function, he would want to go home 20 minutes after we arrived,” says Gloria. “These were events he used to look forward to and enjoy. We were worried because this wasn’t the father we knew.”

Frank’s doctor prescribed medication for depression and anxiety, but it didn’t make a difference. “As a nurse, I had complete faith in these types of medications, so I was surprised when my dad didn’t respond to them. I remember telling him, ‘You can’t be that tough of a nut to crack,’” says Gloria.

Then, based on a recommendation from Frank’s doctor, Eleanor and the children decided to bring Frank to the Center for Geriatrics at Bridgeport Hospital for a geriatric assessment. “A geriatric assessment is the first step in figuring out the right care for an older adult,” says Geriatrician Vivian Argento, MD. “It can reveal the reasons for many changes an older adult may experience as they age.” The full assessment, which takes approximately 90 minutes, includes a physical exam; tests and screenings to evaluate the patient physically, emotionally and mentally; a review of all medications and supplements the patient is taking; an interview with family members to help identify problems and solutions; and a comprehensive planning session with the patient, family and physician.

Dr. Argento and her team evaluated Frank, adjusted his medication and set up a wellness plan for him that included doctor visits and activities at a local adult day care center.

According to Gloria, her father’s transformation following the assessment was nothing short of miraculous.

“I call them the Magic Team,” says Gloria. “They succeeded in finding the right regimen for Dad and brought the sparkle and smile back to his face.” Frank was finally enjoying life again. He smiled. He made jokes. He looked forward to family gatherings.

“The biggest breakthrough I remember was the morning he asked me, ‘So, how are your girls?’” remembers Gloria, referring to her daughters. “That’s when I knew he wasn’t stuck in his head anymore and that the changes Dr. Argento and her team delivered were making a big difference in his life.”

Later, when Frank became permanently home bound due to ataxia (lack of muscle coordination, loss of balance, tendency to fall), getting to and from a doctor’s office for appointments became impossible. As part of the Center for Geriatrics’ comprehensive services, Frank qualified for the Center’s Home Visit Program.

Circa 1950: Frank was the proud proprietor of White Walk Market for 30 years and, in semi-retirement, Glori-Lyn Meat Specialty Foods, both in Stratford.

Through the Center for Geriatrics’ Home Visit Program, Bridgeport Hospital geriatric specialists (physicians and nurse practitioners) visit the patient’s home, take care of any health issues, provide basic tests and home blood draws, coordinate care and gauge home safety. “For many older adults, a trip to the doctor’s office can be very difficult due to physical or mental health conditions that prevent them from leaving their homes. As a result, housebound men and women may not get the medical attention they need, until a routine health problem escalates into an emergency. By providing care at home, many of our patients get healthcare earlier,” says Chief of Geriatrics Beata Skudlarska, MD. “And getting care early can help avoid an Emergency Department visit or prevent development of a serious medical condition.”

“To have Dad’s care at home was a godsend for all of us,” says Gloria. “He was able to stay where he and my mother wanted to be.”

Frank passed away in 2008, but his success in the Home Visit Program prompted his wife Eleanor to pursue the same in-home care option when she needed it. Even at 90, Eleanor was able to stay in her own home and receive medical care for her mounting health issues. “If it hadn’t been for the Home Visit Program, Mom would have been in the hospital or in a nursing home,” says Gloria. “One of us visited her nearly every day and checked in by phone all the time, but with full-time jobs and families— we’re part of the Sandwich Generation—caring for her ourselves wasn’t an option. Mom loved being at home, and we knew she was well cared for by Dr. Argento and the Center for Geriatrics team.” Eleanor recently moved to an assisted living facility where Dr. Argento will continue to care for her as her primary physician.

When questions arise between visits, Gloria or Eleanor call upon Geriatric Case Manager Dori Rogers, RN, MSN, for answers and guidance. “That’s what makes this program golden. We have the support of the Center’s entire team, with help just a phone call away. Dori handles my concerns with such compassion. She or one of the geriatricians gets back to me the same day,” explains Gloria.

The Geriatric Home Visit Program

The Geriatric Home Visit Program includes a comprehensive assessment and follow-up visits by a geriatrician (physician) or geriatric nurse practitioner. Home visits alternate between the physician and the nurse practitioner, so both healthcare providers get to know their patients. The Geriatric Home Visit Program becomes the primary care physician for these patients. If hospitalization is necessary for Geriatric Home Visit Program patients, Bridgeport Hospital provides that care.

Who is eligible? What services are provided?
The Geriatric Home Visit Program accepts adults
  • who are 55 years or older, AND
  • who are housebound and, for physical or mental health reasons, cannot get to a doctor’s office, AND
  • whose healthcare insurance (Medicare or private) will cover the cost of the program.
Some of the services an older adult may be able to receive* at home as part of the Geriatric Home Visit Program include:
  • Doctor visits
  • Some X-rays using a portable X-ray machine
  • EKGs (a test to check the heart)
  • Blood tests
  • Nursing service referrals
  • Physical and occupational therapy
* based on insurance coverage and/or a physician referral
For more information about Bridgeport Hospital’s
Geriatric Home Visit Program, please call 203-384-3388.

1995: The Olenski family. Pictured (l-r) are son Tom, daughter Linda, Frank and Eleanor, son John, son Ted and daughter Gloria.

Gloria treasures a photo she has of her father, which was taken the day his smile came back. “What I love about that picture is that it reflects the return of his patient, caring soul. I’ll never forget the smile he would flash my way across the room over a slice of cake at a family gathering. Or, later in life, the wink and a smile he would shoot me through the bathroom mirror while shaving, as I helped him get ready each morning,” she says.

“I would have hated to see my father pass away depressed and anxious. It was so special to see him relaxed and at ease in the last chapter of his life,” Gloria continues. “Thanks to Dr. Argento and the Center for Geriatrics, we got him back. What a gift to allow him to remain at home to the end. This is the way to treat our aging loved ones.”

Geriatric Physician Specialists at Bridgeport Hospital

What is a Geriatrician?

Geriatricians are physicians who specialize in the care of older adults. Geriatricians focus on improving their patients’ quality of life and functional ability.

Specific training and certification in geriatric medicine is required. The highest level of qualification is participation in a Geriatric Fellowship, which ranges from one to three years of study after completing a residency, and a specialty Board Examination to assure expertise in the field of geriatrics. All of Bridgeport Hospital’s geriatricians are Fellowship-trained and have successfully passed their Board Examinations.

Bridgeport Hospital Geriatricians:
Beata Skudlarska, MD, Chief of Geriatrics
Vivian Argento, MDMarina Blagodatny, MDMithil Choksey, MD

Internists working with the Geriatric Group:
Warren Heller, MDKarine Toumanian, MD

For more information about, or a referral to, any of these
expert physicians, please call 1-888-357-2396, toll-free, 24/7.

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