Like a second family

Herb Bassett Home resident Jerry Robins (left) and longtime staff member Sylvia Szeszorak (right) pose for a photo following the home’s 35th anniversary celebration on Wednesday. -- Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

When Sylvia Szeszorak left the Herb Bassett Home, she thought she was leaving for good.

More than 30 years later, Szeszorak is one of the longest serving staff members at the long-term care home, which officially celebrated 35 years of operation on Wednesday.

When she looks back in time she sees good years and bad years, but remains thankful she came back for all of them.

“I quit in ’85 to have my last child and thought, ‘I’m never going to come back to work,’ but two years later I was back, and I’m still here,” Szeszorak chuckles during a short interview following Wednesday’s celebration.

In total, Szeszorak has spent 32 years working at the Herb Bassett. Only fellow staff member Shirley Ursu and residents Gary Gunville and Wanda Severight have been at the facility longer. Although there have been challenges, the home’s staff and residents have become like a second family.

“You come to become very good, close friends with them,” she says. “You treat them like your family.”

That familiar feeling of having a second family at Herb Bassett is a common one. For residents like Jerry Robins, a retired truck-driver who moved into the home roughly four years ago, the Herb Bassett is homely in the best way possible.

“It’s nice,” he says, and then smiles. “It’s better than being in jail.”

Laughing matters aside, Robins—who has never been in jail—credits the staff with being understanding, hardworking and helpful. He points out that many residents have healthcare needs their family members simply can’t help with.

When he looks back on 35 years, he sees at home that’s filled a vital role in the community.

“There are a lot of people who can’t take care of their moms and dads at home,” he explained. “It’s better for them to be in here than to be sitting at home doing nothing. We have lots of activity here.”

While staff members play a big role in that activity, volunteers have always provided a much needed boost over the last 35 years.

Your average Herb Bassett Home volunteer ranges from eager high school students to community leaders, like former Prince Albert Raiders board president Nestor Hryciuk. At 88-years-old, Hryciuk visits the home twice a day, partly to see his wife Connie, who is one of the residents, and partly to help out staff members wherever he’s needed.

“You make friends here with the other residents, and it has become my second home because I’m here so much,” he explains. “As a visitor or as a husband, I’m quite involved.”

Although Hryciuk’s mother was a Herb Bassett resident back in the ‘90s, he said he never really became involved as a volunteer until recently. Since then, both he and his wife have developed a deep appreciation for what the home offers. When he thinks back on 35 years, he can’t imagine how families would get by without it.

“It’s become a very important part of my life and her life,” he says. “When I see the 144 beds and the people who occupy those beds, yes (I see) it’s vital to the community.”

Herb Bassett Home volunteer Nestor Hryciuk (left) and his wife Connie (right) pose for a photo during Wednesday’s anniversary celebration. — Jason Kerr/Daily Herald

Like many others at the home’s 35th anniversary, Hryciuk says approaches to long-term care have changed. Staff members like Herb Bassett and Pineview Terrace Director of Care Frank Suchorab say there’s been a major “mind shift” in how they approach patient care. These days, patients are the experts, he explains. Their goal is to help them live their daily lives, not dictate their every activity.

“We’re more of a home than a medical model,” he explains. “Long-term care has evolved.”

Nobody knows for sure what the future of long-term care is, or how things will pan out for the Herb Bassett Home.

For some people at Wednesday’s celebration, there is concern that Saskatchewan residents could forget just how important they are. Gone are the days when only seniors resided in the Herb Bassett’s rooms. These days, there are also younger residents, many of which are living with Acquired Brain Injuries. Those in attendance are committed to making sure facilities like the Herb Bassett continue to function as long as possible.

“I hope our Governments of Saskatchewan never gets the idea to cut costs at long-term facilities in this province. That would be a disaster, to reduce staff and other amenities that take place in here. That would be terrible,” Hryciuk says at the end of his interview. “To Premier Scott Moe from Shellbrook, I would say to him, ‘keep the long-term care facilities as they are and make them even better than they are today.’”