May 28, 2015
To say that Dr. Ronald Schwartz has bought into the mission of Masonicare and the Masonic virtues that drive our healthcare continuum is a bit of an understatement. This month, Masonicare Health Center's Medical Director celebrates his 20th year with the organization. It's a relationship he cherishes as a physician, as a Mason and, most recently, as a benefactor.
A longtime donor to the Masonicare Annual Appeal, Dr. Schwartz recently decided to make a provision for The Masonic Charity Foundation of Connecticut in his will.
"If you really support something," he said, "actions speak louder than words. I just felt that, after 20 years at Masonicare, I wanted to do something more. I wanted to show my support, give back, and make a difference. Twenty years in the same place has got to mean something."
Whether he's making rounds at the Health Center or seeing patients at the nearby Medical Office Building , Schwartz sees the impact that donors' gifts to The Foundation are having on residents and patients in need every day.
"Maybe it's special wheelchairs or dental work that they couldn't afford," he said. "It's so rare, in this day and age, to see an organization still able to respect and care for an older person to the degree that Masonicare does."
Schwartz's bequest, which will provide important revenue in support of the mission of Masonicare, was made in honor of friends and colleagues Stephen B. McPherson, President and CEO of Masonicare, and Dr. Steven Angelo, Masonicare's Vice President of Medical Affairs.
"I not only consider both of them friends," he said, "but also mentors. They're men of compassion and integrity."
Schwartz was born in Brooklyn, NY but grew up on Long Island. His mother, a former school teacher and the first among her siblings to attend college, and father, an Austrian immigrant who graduated with honors from NYU Medical School, stressed the importance of education early and often. In time, both Ron and his sister decided to pursue careers in medicine.
It was during his final year of residency that Schwartz decided to focus on geriatrics.
"I wasn't really drawn to any of the specialty areas like cardiology or pulmonary medicine," he recalled. "They just weren't me. Geriatrics wasn't a 'glamorous' field like gastroenterology or surgery. But one day, in the library, I picked up a journal from the American Geriatric Society. There were articles in it on delirium, dementia, incontinence, falls, pain management ... and I found all of it really interesting. I realized for the first time that there was so much more to geriatrics. I liked that it incorporated the use of an interdisciplinary approach, so I wouldn't always be working by myself. I'd get to work with nurses, social workers, psychiatrists, physical therapists, occupational therapists. So much of working in geriatrics is about being part of a team and using everybody's talents together to keep an older person living the best way possible."
In 1994, Schwartz almost joined a practice in Florida, but at the last minute decided to stay in the Northeast to be closer to his parents, both of whom were in declining health.
"It turned out to be the best decision not to go," he said. The following year, he spotted an ad in a medical journal: the Masonic Home and Hospital (now Masonicare Health Center) was looking for a staff geriatrician to do multiple levels of geriatrics.
"It sounded good," he recalled. "But I had no idea where Wallingford was. I found Masonicare by luck."
Schwartz arrived equipped not only with the necessary skill set and no shortage of one-liners, but also the experience of caring for two aging parents. It impacted his work at Masonicare in ways he could not have anticipated.
"When my mother was battling dementia, I couldn't look at a dementia patient and not see her," he said. "It was difficult. And after she and my father passed in 1998, I did have a crisis moment where I wondered if I could continue working in this field. But as I returned to my rounds, I almost felt as if my parents were inside me. I found an inner strength. When I had to talk to the family member of a patient, I could feel my parents speaking through me. I was able to give comfort to these people because I was able to relate to them. That just continued, and continues to this day."
As his ties to Masonicare deepened, Schwartz was inspired to join the Freemasons. He was raised at Ansantawae Lodge No. 89, Milford, in 2006.
"I didn't know much about the Masons," he recalled, "except the good things they did in the community and some of the traditions they had. But some of those traditions, like Grand Masters' Day, had become my traditions. Somehow, I always likened the Masons to the Boy Scouts. My son was in the Boy Scouts and they taught him a lot of things, like discipline and respect. I felt that just as he had benefitted from being part of a character-building organization, I wondered if joining the Masons would do the same thing for me. And I think it did."