Pittsburgh Mercy Health System
Stories of Hope
By Kathleen A. Amant
Geraldine "Gerri" Romain Slater lived at home with her family in Pittsburgh until the age of 15. In the 1930s and '40s, the prevailing medical recommendation was that a child born with the diagnosis of mental retardation and her family would be best served by committing the child to a state institution. For the next 35 years, Gerri lived at Pennsylvania's Polk and Marcy state hospitals.
Then, in the mid-1970s, a new medical model emerged: Individuals with intellectual disabilities would be better served living in the community.
Gerri and her friend Bob were discharged from Marcy State Hospital in 1976. Each began to receive supportive services from a small community agency that was a forerunner to Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services, part of Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Catholic Health East, sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy.
Gerri first lived in a group home that provided 24-hour staffing. With growing independence and improved safety and social skills, she found a job in the housekeeping department at the University of Pittsburgh. Soon after starting to work, and with additional support services from Mercy, Gerri moved to a semi-independent living apartment.
Bob also received services from Mercy with the same level of decreasing staff support as he, too, continued to achieve greater independence. Gerri, Bob, and others with the same general level of function were forging strong friendships and enjoying living independently in the community.
When Mercy began its first Supported Living Program in the mid-1980s, Gerri and Bob were excellent candidates. Individuals in this program receive less than 30 hours of staff support each week, according to the specific level of need.
For many years, Gerri and Bob had been girlfriend and boyfriend. Then, on Christmas in 1994, Bob proposed marriage to Gerri. Initially, their families hesitated, but knowing ample support would be there, they quickly came to accept Gerri's and Bob's right to wed and to determine their own lives. In a ceremony surrounded by family and friends, Gerri and Bob became husband and wife in May 1995. Mercy employees accompanied Gerri and Bob on a three-day honeymoon trip to Niagara Falls. After their honeymoon, the newlyweds moved into their own apartment in Beechview with minimal supportive services. Gerri and Bob eventually moved to Beechview Manor, a community senior high-rise apartment in Pittsburgh's South Hills, and she retired from her job at the university.
In 2009, 14 years after they were wed, Bob died unexpectedly. Gerri no longer had the encouragement, assistance, and companionship he provided. The first barrier she had to overcome was her fear of being alone. Mercy provided Gerri with emotional support and helped her to learn new skills. Gerri used the time following Bob's death as a period of learning, growing, and self-discovery.
Finding a new way to live each day became Gerri's primary goal. Time would be the main factor in determining if Gerri would succeed in maintaining her independent residence at Beechview Manor. Within three months, Gerri accomplished for herself many of the things Bob had assisted her with daily. Most importantly, she voiced her desire to remain in her own home.
Today, Gerri is surrounded by a natural support system within the community. She has long-time friends with whom she shares time and activities. She attends the Beechview Community Senior Center and plays in their chime group. Her neighbors are always available to lend a helping hand and a friendly ear.
Gerri's life today is different from the one she shared with Bob. However, the new life she has forged for herself—one in which she makes her own decisions, her own choices, and her own way—is a testament to the re-awakening of the spirit of self-determination that dwells in each of us.
In celebration and honor of all that she has accomplished, Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services presented Gerri with a "Spirit of Self-Determination Award."
Now in her mid-80s, Gerri is still very spry and lively. She remains in Mercy's Supported Living Program, where she receives 10 to 12 hours of support each week. As her needs change, Gerri may eventually need to revisit her care plan. Within Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services' continuum of care, Gerri has the flexibility of returning to semi-independent living or to a higher level of service, should the need arise.
Bob would be proud of Gerri for the new life she has fashioned for herself amidst the people and places that were special to them. Pittsburgh Mercy Health System and Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services celebrate Gerri's accomplishments and will ensure that she maintains a high quality of life through whatever lies ahead.
Gerri with Bernadette Dickson, a residential counselor III in Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services' Supported Housing Program.
Photo by Bobby Thomas» Learn more about our ministry, Mercy Intellectual Disabilities Services