A Matter of Justice

A Matter of Justice

Sister Donna Wisowaty, SNDdeN

“I come out to my car, I sit and I pray,” says Sister Donna Wisowaty. “Because people deserve better.”

It’s not an easy job Sister Donna has, but it would be hard to argue anyone anywhere is better qualified.

Many people know Sister Donna as the former administrator of the Mount Notre Dame Health Center. Under her leadership, the Center went years at a time with zero deficiencies as noted by the Ohio Department of Health. The Center was rated as one of the 25 best in the state by the State of Ohio and as one of the best in Cincinnati by Consumer Reports.

But after 19 years at the helm, Sister Donna decided to bring the love she shared with her Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur to the larger community. She works now as one of seven ombudsmen for Pro Seniors, an advocacy organization in Cincinnati serving residents of long-term care facilities and their families.

Sister Donna Wisowaty, SNDdeN, in her car, preparing for the day to advocate for residents in long-term care facilities.

And while many of the 52 facilities Sister Donna visits each quarter are providing quality care, others are not. “Some settings,” she says, “are heart-breaking.”

Which is why she ends up in her car, praying.

“My philosophy is I focus on each day. It’s one case at a time. Otherwise it could become overwhelming,” she says.

Sister Donna tells of a woman in a long-term care facility with nothing but a bed in an otherwise empty room. No nightstand, no dresser, no chair, no mirror, no nothing. And of the lights, only a weak overhead florescent remained operational. Even the bathroom was without light.

Upon Sister Donna’s intercession, the neglect was corrected. But abuse such as this, she says, is real. “We are serving a population that’s very, very vulnerable.”

Other situations include clients not receiving assistance with ‘activities of daily living’, which include getting out of a bed or chair, bathing, eating, etc. Residents may not be receiving their prescribed medications, or may be isolated. Some may be ‘dumped’, meaning they are sent to the hospital then not allowed to return to the facilities where they were living.

Sister Donna Wisowaty, SNDdeN, reviews a care with a colleague at Pro Seniors, Inc.

“Our biggest role is that of advocacy,” says Sister Donna. “We want to ensure that everyone knows what their rights are. We can walk them through the process, and we can empower them.”

Of the ombudsmen at Pro Seniors, Sister Donna is the only one having previously served as an administrator. She knows the rules and regulations, and is often called upon by her colleagues. She also realizes when administrators at failing facilities are uninformed or not up to the task of running a quality nursing home or assisted living residence.

So much, she says, flows from the administrator. He or she sets the philosophy, the work ethic, and the degree to which clients are treated with empathy and respect.

“You have to model what you expect,” she says. “A good administrator is out on the floor, not in the office. You have to walk the talk.”  

From a young age, Sister Donna has been drawn to the elderly. She was close to both grandmothers, one of whom lived with her family. She also helped care for her father through the course of his Alzheimer’s disease. She received a bachelor’s degree in social work, putting it to use in long-term care facilities one of which she still visits. Prior to leading the Sisters’ Health Center, she received her master’s degree in gerontology.

From every angle, the clients at long-term facilities could not have a better advocate. And yet there is an additional angle: Sister Donna brings with her the charism of Saint Julie.

“This ministry allows me to give voice to people who are abandoned, forgotten or not valued,” she says. “The complaints we receive, they should not be. We always walk the process. We never blow anything off. Residents have the right to expect quality care and treatment.”

And here she pauses, and perhaps she is thinking of her time in the car. “But it’s okay to cry. It’s okay to be upset at injustice.”

Published in the 2022 Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur Ohio Province Annual Report.