Beginning to Pull Back From Providing Curated TV Content for Constituents

For the past 10 or 11 months – certainly, the majority of the time that I’ve been in my chaplaincy position, which has been during this global pandemic, I have been utilizing the in-house broadcasting channel to get content to residents. I have found and curated video content from YouTube to broadcast to the residents, especially since most of the pandemic thus far – and certainly the summer, fall, and winter – the residents were largely confined to their rooms and really weren’t able to get out, in accordance with Ohio Department of Health guidelines.

As such, it has been an important service that I provided to my constituents, providing edifying entertainment especially on and around Shabbat, although it also included holidays (Rosh HaShanah, Yom Kippur, and Sukkot were pretty intense). (Yes, as I announced a couple of weeks ago, the archive of this curated content is available here.)

However, now that residents are largely no longer confined to their rooms (at least for the assisted living side of the building; the skilled nursing side is another matter, as the residents have mostly been confined there), I have decided to pull back a little on some of the programming, since the need has lessened (I also have to acknowledge a helpful conversation with a fellow Jewish communal professional that I feel helped provide me with license/encouragement to do so). However, there still remains somewhat of a need, as while the residents have a significantly greater deal of freedom, many still may be in their rooms for some of Shabbat, plus many have become accustomed to the entertainment that I curate and broadcast to them.

Whereas I have at least for the last few months been curating and scheduling programming content on Fridays from around 2pm/3pm through around 9pm, and on Saturdays from 9:30am through the afternoon, often up until around 5pm/6pm. However, I am now pulling back, beginning at 4pm on Friday afternoons and then continuing on until around 9pm, and  on Saturdays, I’ll still continue at 9:30am for the time being and then continue until only about 2pm/3pm. Once we begin holding regular Shabbat morning services, I may begin only starting the content at 11am, then continuing until around 2pm.

So, yes, this is a significant pulling back in this incredibly successful endeavor, but I’m still going to continue to provide the service for the residents in the living facility where I work. When I reflect upon this, I realize that I have probably been leading the way amongst Jewish chaplains in the country. How many others can boast such a lineup of programming for the residents via the in-house broadcasting channel throughout this pandemic? Probably very few and that puts me up – if not at the absolute top, certainly towards the top – of the field in providing this service to the residents. With this deep pride at the success of the work that I have provided to my constituents, I do admit to feeling a certain sense of sadness at stepping away from this success that I have amassed during my first year in this position. Moreover, it has been such a mainstay of my position and the work that I have been providing to the residents, that it seems strange to begin to let go of something with which I have achieved so much success.

Yet, while I am pulling back, beginning with this week’s lineup, providing around 10.5 hours worth of content, as opposed to the 15.5 hours I I have recently been providing, I still remain providing this helpful service to my constituents. I am not cold turkey-quitting this aspect of my job just yet. It will likely be a gradual process of pulling back as we begin to emerge from this pandemic.

Huge Changes [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

There are huge changes taking place, which is very on-brand for 2021 (the year of change), although these are affecting my job. These changes have come from both governmental agencies that regulate what can be done at the senior living facility where I serve as a chaplain, as well as the organization that funds my position.

Changes from the Ohio Department of Health
Amidst the global pandemic, one of the aspects that has drastically changed the trajectory of the virus has been the vaccination efforts, not only nationally, but throughout Ohio, including the facility where I work. With almost all of the residents vaccinated against COVID-19 (there are a small number of residents who refused the vaccination) and most of the staff being vaccinated (we did better than the state average), positive cases of COVID-19 in the building have drastically dropped since our vaccination clinics in January.

As such, fortunately, the Ohio Department of Health (henceforth, ODOH) has recognized the power and effectiveness of the vaccinations to permit greater movement of both residents, as well as their visitors in accessing each other. Last week, in a press release, the ODOH has made a number of changes, the highlights of which are

  • Ohio is requiring that visitation be permitted whenever safety protocols can be met. Previously, visitation was permitted, not required.
  • Vaccinated residents may have physical touch with their visitor while wearing a mask. Previously, touch was discouraged.
  • Visits may occur in a resident’s private room, as opposed to the previous requirement of a separate visitation area.
  • 30 minutes should serve as the minimum amount of time for a visit. Previously, 30 minutes was the maximum time to visit.
  • The order also expands the circumstances in which compassionate care visits should be granted.

Excitingly, another highlight is that “the order updates nursing home and assisted living testing requirements to require the facilities to test vaccinated staff once per week and unvaccinated staff twice per week. The previous order made no distinction between vaccinated or unvaccinated staff.” Although I will miss the twice-weekly testing (I actually just got tested for my 58th COVID-19 test today) as I got both of my doses of the vaccine in January, it is a nice move away from the height of the pandemic.

Changes from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
Another significant change came just weeks ago from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that now, according to updated guidance, whenever there are positive COVID-19 results from staff doesn’t necessarily require a suspension of activities. This is really great news! For many months, our facility has been subject to even just one staff member turning up positive for the virus to prevent activities from taking place, which has been greatly unfortunate, as had recently occurred. However, now, with the new guidance, we are not, as had occurred with a positive case amongst the staff that just happened within the past week (instead, only skilled nursing experienced a suspension of activities, allowing assisted living programming, dining, etc. to continue).

Changes from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati
Another huge change is the updated press release from the Jewish Home of Cincinnati (henceforth, JHC) regarding their shift in mission and vision, as well as the announcement of their new executive director. This press release, which was published by The American Israelite today, is an update from the press release they had initially published five weeks ago, which I had highlighted and discussed previously.

In the updated press release, they announced “plans to expand its footprint in the Greater Cincinnati community as a resource for supporting Greater Cincinnati’s Jewish seniors”. Furthermore, according to the press release, the JHC is “pivoting their strategic direction. Not only will JHC continue to support programs related to Jewish life at Cedar Village, but it will also become a grant-making organization to care for local Jewish seniors in the broader community”. This change is “reflective of seniors’ preferences and trends locally and nationally to age in place in their home versus in communal living.”

For further contextualization of the relationship between the JHC and the senior living facility where I work is articulated as:

Following the sale of Cedar Village, JHC has worked in partnership with the new owners and property manager, CarDon, to assure a smooth transition and ensure that Cedar Village remains a Jewish home. JHC continues to provide support to residents through the Cedar Village Foundation (CVF), the sole supporting arm of JHC. Steve Schwartz, CVF Chair of its Board of Directors noted, “CVF exists to support the well-being of Jewish older adults in Greater Cincinnati in alignment with JHC’s pivot and transformation.” CVF assists JHC as fiduciary stewards for the benefit of the Cedar Village residents with mission related commitments. These include pastoral care, Jewish religious observances, kosher meals freshly prepared on premises, and Jewish cultural and secular programming. The Harkavy/Berg Committee of JHC continues to support creative programming to enrich the lives of Cedar Village residents. Judaica owned by JHC remains on loan at Cedar Village and is displayed throughout the building.


In addition to this pivoting, they also announced the hiring of a new executive director, Nina Perlove. Since having discussed the previous iteration of their press release, I have had the opportunity to connect with her on a couple of Zoom meetings, and I look forward to continuing to connect and work together to serve Jewishly-identifying seniors at the senior living facility where I work.

One further piece of interest from the press is that the JHC will “begin accepting Letters of Inquiry and grant-making requests later this year”, so we should see how that develops.

Synthesizing These Changes
As you can imagine, this avalanche of changes is so incredibly sweeping and profoundly affecting my work. It is also so much to synthesize in such a short time. Moreover, having gotten the hang of this job over the course of my first ten months, it will be quite the transition into this next phase of my work as a Director of Pastoral Care at a senior living facility.

Positive COVID-19 results in the building sideline efforts at programming

After having shared that the assisted living dining room and programming had resumed for the first time in a half-year at the senior living facility where I work, the building also began outdoor visitations, which was really exciting to see happening once again. However, the other day, the building administrator published a letter to residents and their families, which opened with

I am so sorry that I have to write this update. We have two contracted employees that work full time at Cedar Village that have tested positive for COVID. Both have very limited exposure to residents. As a result of these positives, I unfortunately must suspend outdoor visitations, dining room service, and small group activities. Even though the vast majority of the residents have been vaccinated, the guidance has not changed from the Ohio Department of Health at this point. I hope and pray that this is a very short disruption in our plans for re-opening Cedar Village to all of you.

It is so frustrating to have such an occurrence happen, since 98-99% of the residents are vaccinated, yet the building still needs to adhere to these Ohio Department of Health rules.

While this suspension of activities is frustrating and deeply unfortunate for the residents, it is only for 14 days, barring, of course, any further staff turning up with positive COVID-19 results (although nearly 40% of the staff refused the vaccination against COVID-19), so at least there’s some hope that these activities can resume for the residents.

Encouraging Developments Due to Lack of COVID-19 in Building [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

With most of the staff at the senior living facility where I work getting vaccinated against COVID-19, we have seen a significant improvement in our building dealing with COVID-19. So much so that our building administrator published a letter the other day in which he writes, “I am happy to report that Cedar Village has gone 20 days with no resident or staff COVID positive results. This is important because we are now considered out of outbreak status!”

That, in and of itself, is great news! And, due to that great news, he continues, “We will not have to test health care residents on a weekly basis. Also, this allows us in Health Care to re-open the dining rooms so the residents can eat outside of their rooms. We are planning on doing this next week. We will have each resident eat at their own table socially distanced from each other.”

Wonderful news for the health care residents and their staff!

He also wrote that “We are also starting to have small group activities in Health Care restart. In addition, we are also working with P.S. Salon to re-open the campus beauty salons. Finally, with the weather breaking, we are working resuming outdoor family visitations as soon as possible.” I can tell you that these things are all really great and, just as we had seen in August for the few weeks these were open, I expect morale and energy to pick up swiftly!

I can tell you that it is wonderful to see the residents’ spirits picking up due to these activities, in addition to the assisted living dining room having opened up last week.

Unfortunately, since nearly 40% of the staff refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, if even one staff member turns up positive with the virus, then these activities have to go away again (in accordance with Ohio Department of Health regulations). So, I’m hoping that our staff stay safe from the virus.

Art Videos?

Surprise
If you had asked me before I started my current job as a chaplain at a senior living facility about making art videos, I would have found that to be strange. Yet, here I am, making art videos.

First Video
Of course, it started amidst the pandemic, as no programming could take place, due to the virus. I approached the building’s art specialist and she agreed to do a video with me on the artwork series in the administrative wing, about which I had been quite curious. So we made that video. Yes, we used my cell phone for the video and the lighting was atrocious, and the sound was not so great either.

Sukkah Art Video
The local JCC then had, as they have in years past, albeit smaller due to the pandemic, an art exhibit in their sukkah; however, since our seniors were unable to leave the building, our art specialist and I made a trip out there to bring the exhibit to them, as it were, resulting in this video. And, yet again, with no special lighting, no microphones, and just my phone camera, it turned out decently, yet it could be better.

Grant for Camera Equipment Boosts Production Quality
I then applied for a grant from a local committee to fund camera equipment, which yielded a mirrorless digital camera, microphones, a light, and a tripod. This provided a significant increase in production quality for our subsequent art videos.

Two Videos in the Building
We then shot two videos in the facility, one on a series of art on Jewish holidays, and one on our buildings contribution to the JCC’s artwork exhibits over the years. Both of these featured notably improved production quality due to the fulfilled grant. (If you do plan on watching the videos, I highly recommend watching them in 1080p60 quality.)

Two Videos out of the Building
We then made two further videos outside of the building, the first of which was of an art exhibit that was about to leave the Skirball Museum and the residents would have otherwise been entirely unable to catch any of it, so, just like the limited time engagement of the JCC sukkah art exhibit, we were granted exclusive access to the museum (since it was otherwise closed to the public due to the pandemic), resulting in this video. The other of which was of a series of murals that are part of the Holocaust & Humanity Center’s Cincy Upstander Project, which is available here. (Just as with the previous two videos, if you plan on watching them, I recommend watching them in 1080p60 quality.)

More
While we have some more lined-up that we plan to create, as we begin to open up, perhaps the need for such videos will decrease. Who knows?

Welcoming My New Boss

In my current position as a chaplain at a senior living facility, I have had the interesting situation of answering, as it were, to two separate bosses: one internal to the facility and one external to the facility. Internal to the facility, I am answerable to the building administrator. External to the facility, I was answerable for the first 4-5 months to the executive director of the Jewish Home of Cincinnati, until he took ill and was out of the picture (he sadly ended up passing away over a month ago), at which point, I began reporting directly to the lay leaders on the board of directors.

However, I was delighted to hear Monday evening that his successor had already begun her first day on the job. And just yesterday, according to a press release, “Jewish Home of Cincinnati, Inc. (JHC) has selected Nina Perlove to serve as its first executive director in their newly-transformed organization as a grant-funder.” Further according to the press release, “Perlove will lead the foundation and her number one priority is to ensure that the foundation’s mission – support greater Cincinnati Jewish seniors by investing in innovative services and programs – is fulfilled through robust and aligned partnerships with greater Cincinnati nonprofits who serve older Jewish adults.”

I am very much looking forward to meeting (whether in real-life or even via Zoom) my new boss, as I am excited to have this fresh surge of energy in our efforts.

The press release quotes her as articulating that she is “looking forward to partnering with many senior service providers to identify and invest in innovative programs that will allow Jewish seniors in our region to live connected, fulfilling lives with dignity, and to enrich the well-being of the elderly through this important mitzvah.”
Of additional interest included within the boiler plate area of the press release is a snippet regarding the “newly-transformed organization as a grant-funder”:

Innovative services, programs, and projects for Jewish seniors in the Cincinnati region will be considered for funding. Specifically, JHC will invest in COVID-19 relief, partnerships/collaborations, innovative start-ups, basic human and mental health needs, and safe delivery of services. Letters of inquiry and grant applications will be accepted twice a year and there will be a 12-month period between awards.

This should be an interesting and exciting new development in my work serving in my current capacity.

Getting Vaccinated Along with Most of the Staff

Most rabbis do not get to receive the opportunity to be amongst the first to receive a vaccination against COVID-19, yet, as a chaplain working at such a facility, I have the wonderful opportunity to receive this vaccination.

Receiving the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine against COVID-19 on Thursday

I was very excited on Thursday when I received the first dose of the vaccine, as it is an important first step to not only getting our facility opening up and protecting both my family and me, but also on a much broader scale of opening up society and getting things open again.

I was shocked and deeply disturbed to hear that so many staff have refused the vaccine.  In fact, when we first had sign-ups, less than 40% of the staff had agreed to receive the vaccine. I was deeply shocked that we ultimately had just a little bit over 60% of the staff getting vaccinated on Thursday. However, this is apparently better than the state average, as nearly 60% of staff at such facilities have refused the vaccine (42% of nursing home staff in Ohio have agreed to get vaccinated, according to the numbers shared with me in a letter published to our residents and families by our building administrator).

It is deeply concerning and worrying that so many people have refused to take this important first step in getting out of this pandemic. Clearly, we still have a long road ahead of us….

Finally Seeing the Emotional Toll of Lockdowns During COVID-19 on Seniors

Having been in my current job for four months now, I have finally begun to see for myself the effects that the lockdowns at the senior living facility where I work have been taking upon the residents.

While I had heard from others in the building when I had first started that the social isolation had caused people to deteriorate more quickly than they previously had been, I just their word for it. However, now it’s something that I am actually seeing for myself.

Sure, keeping residents safe from COVID-19 is a laudable objective, yet keeping them cooped up is not only causing physical deterioration and mental deterioration, but emotional deterioration, as well; and that might be the hardest of the three to witness. My heart breaks for them and their loved ones in these tough times of COVID-19.

I hope the federal and state health authorities can adjust their regulations going forward, because I don’t think this is going away anytime soon.

Death & Dying – Not Always Like TV & Movies

Thursday marked exactly three months of my having been in my current position as a Director of Pastoral Care at a senior living facility and one thing that has struck me is that dying and death are much different here than it is as portrayed on television and movies.

This particularly comes to mind, as a longtime resident breathed her final breath the other night. But her passing was the furthest thing from sudden, as she was not only a centenarien,* but also had been on hospice for over a week, with her octogenarian (octogenarien(?)) daughters having spent all of last week with her and having gotten to say their final goodbyes.

Having a week getting to say one’s goodbyes to one’s parent is something I’ve realized is not uncommon around this place, especially when the person has been placed on hospice. I also recently experienced this with a Holocaust survivor whose daughter said her final goodbye to her and then she was placed on hospice. But then she ended up living another week and a half – she was definitely a fighter.

Whereas it is depicted in television and movies as having a certain sadness around death, especially owing to the shock and suddenness of a loved one’s passing, with an older demographic, it can be far from sudden. To be sure, there is some sadness around the departure from this world for the family, which they mourn, but it is almost more of the finality of it, than necessarily any sense of surprise.

Dying and death can certainly be a long drawn-out process and, as I’ve witnessed, sometimes even family members get impatient with their loved one hanging on for longer than expected. The family members have said their goodbyes multiple times, and then have the opportunity to say them again.

It has been an enlightening first three months, experiencing dying and death, not just for the residents, but also for their family members.

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*Yes, I’m aware the spelling for a man who is 100 years or older is centenarian, but the person under discussion was a woman, so just wanted to be genderly correct.