URI student, 92-year-old South Bay Retirement Living resident share room, so much more during 8-day stay

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KINGSTON, R.I. – April 1, 2013 – During the University of Rhode Island’s spring break, pharmacy student Emily Anastasia went to a completely different world, but she traveled just a little more than a mile from campus to get there.

As part of her last clinical pharmacy rotation in her sixth and final year of the doctor of pharmacy program at URI, the Barrington resident spent eight days living at South Bay Retirement Living in South Kingstown. Anastasia not only had a roommate, 92-year-old Dottie Cusack, she also made numerous friends and learned about geriatric care in a very personal way.

Anastasia was inspired to take on such a project after viewing a documentary film in a class taught by Erica Estus, clinical assistant professor of pharmacy at URI. Titled Andrew Jenks, Room 335, the film focuses on Jenks’ summer living in a retirement home and his experiences getting to know and love the residents.

After viewing the film, Anastasia said to Estus, “I wish as a pharmacy student we could get an experience like that.”

So Estus met with Chris Sheil, the resident program manager at South Bay Retirement Living, which is located on Kingstown Road (Route 108).

“We had a big meeting with all of the parties,” Sheil said, “and everyone was so excited that they wanted to offer the experience for the six weeks of the rotation. But we weren’t able to make a room available for that long.”

Still, the eight-day experience was unique among the 649 facilities operated in 36 states by Brookdale Senior Living, the parent of South Bay.

Even in the early days, the project had a profound effect on Anastasia and Cusack.

“My experience at South Bay has already changed my life and has made me a better pharmacist. The best part of it is the stories the residents tell,” said Anastasia, who had volunteered the past three years at South Bay.

Estus has been placing students at South Bay for their geriatric rotations for five years. But this more intense experience was even more valuable.

“It’s like a college dorm because everyone knows each other, right down to a nearby resident who plays his television loudly,” Estus said.

Sheil said Anastasia was comfortable as soon as she moved in. “Emily is so special that she took advantage of the opportunity and made the most of it.”

In just the eight days, Anastasia and Cusack developed a deep affection for each other. Cusack hung a “Welcome Emily” sign over Anastasia’s bed to let her 24-year-old roommate know this was her home too for eight days.

“I consider her to be one of my own,” Cusack said. “She is just like one of my grandchildren.”

Watching the two of them in action, one could see the glances and smiles they exchanged when they were together. Their eyes twinkled when they shared special time, such as when Cusack taught Anastasia to knit.

By the end of the week, Anastasia was knitting hats for the residents and her fellow pharmacy students.

And lest you have the impression that Anastasia and Cusack sat around most days, check out the schedule for a typical Monday: 9:15 a.m. Strong for Life-Movement is Medicine Class; 10 a.m., a trip to Stop & Shop; 1:30 p.m., a current events discussion; 2:30 p.m., drama club, 4 p.m., Wii bowling; and 6:30 p.m., Scrabble.

Other days included a knitting circle, a mystery ride, armchair travel, and Anastasia and her roomie did them all together.

Anastasia, the 2010 URI Homecoming queen, a member of Phi Sigma Sigma Sorority and numerous professional pharmacy organizations, said the entire experience was applicable to the broad spectrum of the pharmacy profession.

“But not all of the lessons I learned were about pharmacy,” Anastasia said. “I learned from the residents about their careers, their families, about war and about loss. They were able to adopt me into their South Bay family.

“I learned the residents have hobbies, like knitting, and they are artistic. For my generation, most of us create on the computer, but that’s not true of the residents at South Bay. They are musicians, storytellers, actors and singers.”

Pictured above

IN THE GROOVE: Emily Anastasia, left, and Dottie Cusack, right, in an exercise session at South Bay Retirement Living

URI pharmacy students Emily Anastasia and Jessica DeGiacomo, left, who also was completing a clinical rotation at South Bay, exercise with the residents

AFFECTIONATE ROOMMATES: Emily Anastasia, left, and Dottie Cusack, right, share a hug in their room at South Bay

A STROLL TO THEIR ROOM: Emily, left, and Dottie right walk to their room after a busy day.

URI Photos by Nora Lewis.