Rena Massey heard about the benefits of Suncoast PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) from a friend and decided it could help her 99-year-old mother.
The more she learned about the program, the more she began to think she should join, too. So she did.
“I realized that being physically disabled and needing some psychiatric care, I could not totally take care of somebody,” Rena said. “I felt if I enrolled my mother in PACE she would get the care and I would be supervising it. I would still be able to do for her what I need to do.
“I’m thrilled with PACE because I’m at an age where you’re going to need these services more and not less. Even though I’m only 66, I’ve had certain health conditions for years. They make it hard for me to hold a job. I have mental health issues and physical issues, but this helps me. It enables me to stay healthy.”
Suncoast PACE, a member of Empath Health, aims to support and care for seniors 55 and older who are facing chronic illnesses and aging. The PACE team helps participants achieve a healthy quality of life, stay active and socially connected and live safely and independently at home. Services include primary care, therapies, skilled care, social and emotional support, day care at the Suncoast PACE Day Center and Medical Clinic, in-home care and support, and transportation to the PACE Center or PACE-approved specialists.
Rena and her mother, Rosalia Maresca, live in separate apartments near each other in Pinellas Park. Rena has a 17-year-old cat named Oreo. Rosalia is a world-renowned opera singer who became a voice coach, accompanist and opera director later in life. She joined PACE in October. Rena, a talented musician in her own right, became a participant two months later.
Rosalia grew up in New York City and toured the world after making her operatic debut on the radio in 1939 as a 16-year-old. She married and divorced Mike Bongiorno, who later became the most popular television host in Italy, and Mario Laurenti, a well-known tenor who became a prominent vocal coach and opera director in the Tampa Bay area. Rosalia and Rena worked together as the music directors at Saint James United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg up until the COVID-19 pandemic struck.
As PACE participants, both women have a home health aide who helps with household chores. They also have meals and medications delivered and use PACE transportation to get to appointments.
“The thing I want to emphasize,” Rosalia said, “is the comfort PACE has given me, knowing I will never be a burden to my family. My only daughter will always be taken care of. I have had bitter disappointments in my life, but somehow, God has seen to it, with PACE, to allow me a happy ending. It is a magnificent organization, and I am eternally grateful.”
Interestingly, Rena is the one who uses PACE services the most. She suffers from fibromyalgia and Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease that affects the thyroid gland. She has benefited from PACE’s occupational and physical therapy. Rena also is seeing a PACE mental health counselor to process the recent deaths of Laurenti, who was her father, and a close friend.
“This was the first insurance that offered me physical and occupational therapy,” Rena said. “None of my earlier insurances or doctors ever recommended it. And it’s been a life changer. After the appointments, I kept doing the exercises they told me to. I feel so much better.
Rena also visits the PACE Day Center on Wednesdays.
“I love the arts and crafts,” Rena said. “It’s just nice. You meet nice people, you talk to them, and you do things. The food is good. It’s fun.”
For more information on Suncoast PACE and its services available to Pinellas seniors, please call (727) 289-0062 or visit SuncoastPACE.org.