Opening Up Slightly Provides Noticeable Improvement in Mood [Chaplaincy Chronicles]

Having mentioned previously about the surprise COVID-19 case we had at the senior living facility where I work, I have some follow-up to the story, which is that there’s good news and there’s bad news. The good news was that the case was confined to just one particular resident, and the bad news is that this particular resident passed away, as a public letter on August 4th from the building’s administrator that was sent out to all residents, staff, and families said, “the resident who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away at a location outside of” the facility. According to this letter, the administrator continues

What I can tell you is that this resident was sent to the hospital for an unrelated COVID-19 illness. They were not showing any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 at the time of their hospitalization. They were then tested at a later date during their hospital stay. Our contract trace testing that was conducted amongst our other residents and employees came back negative for COVID-19.

Following the discovery about that resident testing positive for COVID-19, all of the residents in that resident’s hallway were tested for COVID-19 and had to stay in their rooms for several days until the results came back. It was really unfortunate to see these residents having to stay in their rooms (or, as one resident called them, “their jail cells”), and they certainly weren’t even permitted to leave their residential wing. Morale had dropped precipitously – not only that there had been a COVID-19 case on their wing, but also that they had been told that visitations, the dining hall, and even the salon would be opening up the following week, but, instead, they had to be shut in their rooms for an unknown number of days and have those openings-up cancelled.

Fortunately, all of the remaining residents tested negative for the virus and in-person happenings were rescheduled.

Finally, last week, the facility was able to open up its assisted living dining room, was able to resume assisted living outdoor visitation with family, as well as for the first time in 5 months opening up healthcare family visitation outdoors, and even including some activities here, albeit with social distancing. This was some welcome good news for the residents.

The other week, I was beginning to feel optimistic, as I knew all these things were about to open up, even though no letters had been sent out to families, staff, nor residents, because the last time a letter was sent out, someone got COVID-19 and hopes for staff, residents, and their families had all been dashed, so no letter was sent out in advance of everything reopening. But, the other week, I was getting quite optimistic for the residents, even though there was still quite a down mood across the building amongst the residents. In conversations with residents, I was trying to impart optimism about things opening up, them getting to see a friends, and, after having 5 months of having meals served in Styrofoam containers alone in their rooms, they would be able to be served in a dining hall and getting to see their friends. Yes, I realize that they would be at least six feet apart, it would be hard to hear, be hard to talk, but at the very least they’re not cooped up in their own rooms.

A week and a half ago, I remember speaking with a resident before everything opened back up and she was quite concerned that we would have another COVID-19 case and have to close everything down again, so she didn’t want to get her hopes up about opening up again. Well, thank God, things went ahead – the dining room opened up last week and it was really exciting to see residents coming out and talking to their fellow residents. After these first two-and-a-half months of working at this facility and seeing the residents mostly in their rooms, it was really great for me to see the mood lighten up, as residents got to see their friends and talk to them, no longer needing to be confined to their rooms any longer. Sure, they need to maintain social distancing and face masks are required, but there is a sense of optimism in the air and a noticeable improvement in mood since I began.

I am looking forward to see how the mood continues to improve.

A Challenge With Developing Relationships [Chaplaincy Reflection]

Working with different generations in different stages in life is, as you can imagine, quite a different experience for a rabbi. Of course, there are similarities, including conversational skills and approachability, amongst others. Yet, having previously worked with those in the Millenial Generation while they were college students [and young adults] is quite different than working with the Silent Generation while in a senior living facility.

While there are perhaps many, many differences, one stands out to me at this moment, which is developing relationships with them. While working with college students and young adults, my ability to develop relationships with the people whom I was serving was considerable, as I would have conversations with them and we would speak and I would learn about them and they would learn about me and we would develop relationships. However, the demographic I am currently serving, residents at a senior living facility, it’s not the case. I can have a conversation with the residents, I learn about them, they learn about me, and the next time I see them, they’re meeting me for the first time, as they don’t remember meeting me and we have to start over. And this can happen multiple times, where every single time I speak with them, they are meeting me for the first time.

In fact, I have even experienced this within a single conversation with a resident who has dementia where they have asked me multiple times within the course of a conversation who I am. We haven’t even departed from the conversation and yet I’m being inquired as to what my name is, who I am, and what what my role is at the senior living facility. This is, as you can imagine, a deeply significant roadblock in developing relationships with the residents. Of course, I can get to know them and understand them and have a relationship with them, but it may not necessarily be reciprocated from there, and they may literally just meet me time over and time again.

This can be embarrassing to me, sometimes, when there’s someone else around and they say, “Oh, I have never met you”, and I feel embarrassed because it makes it seem to the other person as if I have never made the effort to have met this resident before this present moment, when I may have met them a half-dozen times and spoken with them.

And, yes, I acknowledge that part of the challenge is that I began working at this senior living facility amidst the COVID-19 lockdown, so residents may struggle in recognizing me due to me always wearing a surgical mask in their presence, yet, there are not many other people where I work who look much like me (and, yes, I’m one of only a few people in the building wearing a kippah, so that further serves to identify me).

Going forward, it’s certainly a stark contrast to serving this demographic, whose population is in contrast to the previous populations I’ve served. It will be interesting as I continue working with them, and figure out how to navigate these hurdles of developing relationships with them.

Passwords [Chaplaincy Reflection]

Having written previously about technological issues in a broad sense when it comes to the Silent Generation, many of whom make up the generational demographic in senior living facilities, a specific instance of a technological barrier comes in the form of passwords.

Yes, passwords – that staple of contemporary adulting of knowing your login information – usernames and passwords – is a significant challenge to those in the Silent Generation. On the one hand, it is simply a matter of knowing what it is, where you can even track it down, and find such login information. And if someone has some sort of dementia or other memory loss issues, that becomes a further struggle in finding where these are.

I’ve visited residents in the senior living facility where I work and they have tablets, which is really great (since it’s not a common phenomenon for folks here to have such devices), and I mentioned you know getting onto a particular app (e.g. Zoom, Alexa) and they say okay. Yet when I ask them for their log-in information, residents (this has happened at least three times with completely separate residents) have gone to a notebook or Rolodex and looked where they have written these things down and, in these instances, have struggled mightily to find and figure out what their password was.

As mentioned in my earlier post, those in the younger generations – anywhere from Baby Boomers all the way down to Gen Z – tend to know login information, as it is an important part of living in this world. But, for those in the Silent Generation, who really haven’t had much of a need for most of their lives to deal with this accessibility, it’s a real challenge for them. Of course, let’s be honest: it’s been no minor frustration for those of us (myself included) who go and help them out with a very simple task using a particular easy-to-use app and getting something going functionally – whether it’s the Echo Dot or Zoom -and, yet, it takes so long, as these seniors do not know their passwords nor where they have written them down.

This aspect of helping out those living in senior living facilities with accessing technology under COVID-19 health precautions is a fascinating (and, let’s be honest, frustrating) limitation of accessibility for this particular generation, especially in connecting with their loved ones beyond their buildings.

A Surprise COVID-19 Case

A Resident’s Inspiration
While visiting with one of the residents at the senior living facility at which I work today, he asked me how my job has been, especially starting to work during the lockdown due to the current global pandemic. I said it’s been an interesting time and not without its challenges, but it’s been great to develop one-to-one relationships with the residents. He then responded to me, “You should write an article about this experience.”  Now, I don’t know if I will end up actually writing a full-blown article at some point about serving as a chaplain in a senior living facility during the current global pandemic, but, hopefully, this particular essay will certainly count as one part of the story.

A Ray of Hope
After many months of residents being cooped up inside with limited range of where they could go, they have been quite frustrated with the situation, as they feel like they are prisoners, which is more acutely felt by those living in the assisted living areas, although less so in the skilled nursing areas. A ray of bright hope shone the yesterday when residents received a memo informing them that certain opportunities would be opening up for them:

The Governor has written an order allowing us to start reopening some areas within Health Care and Assisted Living. I was concerned last week with the recent spike in cases and some “talk” in the industry that this order might be rescinded. I wanted to make sure before announcing these changes that they truly were going to go into effect. After 5 months of COVID and the mental and physical stress put on all of us, I did not want to get anyone excited about these changes until I knew they were in place.

The assisted living communal dining would be reopening for lunch and dinner starting on Tuesday, July 28th, although residents would need to be spaced appropriately. Not only would assisted living residents have family outdoor visitation, but, so, too, would those in the health care areas, along with certain small group activities for either health care or assisted living residents. And, finally, the beauty shop would be opening up, which would be extremely exciting!

The Gray, Grim Surprise
However, only hours after that memo was sent out to residents, residents’ families, and staff, another memo was then sent out to those people, which included the grim news that “We just learned that an Assisted Living Resident tested positive for COVID-19 while at the hospital. At this point, with just learning this information, we cannot determine where the exposure occurred. We will take an aggressive stance to protect all the residents and staff while we manage this situation.” The surprising and sneaky nature of this virus clearly came as a shock, especially considering that this resident was not a particularly social or a wanderer – this resident remained in the resident’s room almost all of the time during the lockdown, so this was a huge shock, to say the least.

That memo continued, “At this point, we will be requiring all Assisted Living residents to self-quarantine in their rooms until further notice. Unfortunately, the Assisted Living outdoor visitation will be suspended again.”

Adverse Effects on Staff and Residents
Between the resident life staff getting excited to have some small group programming (and possibly me getting to lead classes/discussions, as well), and other staff also getting excited about making progress opening up in the building to then having to go back to square one was deflating. And that was just the staff. The residents who lived on the hallway of the person who tested positive for the virus all needed to get tested, themselves, which was neither pleasant, nor fun. On top of that, nurses had to stay longer than the end of their shifts to get these important tests done, which clearly took a toll on them, as well.

In addition to the hallways no longer containing foot traffic of any sort in them and losing their liveliness, there was also an emotional energy that seemed to have been sucked out of them.

Worry and Concern
While there is concern and worry amongst the staff about contracting the virus, as well, the amount of concern that residents have for contracting the virus in the same manner that the resident in question caught it is high, not to mention, the increased protocols to maintain residents’ safety from the virus is also tough for them – it is highly frustrating for them.

Providing a Pastoral Presence
Of course, this is where I come in as the pastoral presence, both as someone who is literally there for them, but also someone there for them to whom they can speak. There is a lot of fear, concern, and more – both of what’s going on inside the building, as well as what is transpiring beyond the walls of the building, including riots and spiking levels of COVID-19. Perhaps in a later post, I will share some common themes that I am hearing from the residents.

Flying Solo in Chaplaincy

Having started a new job several weeks ago, I have had the fortunate situation of overlapping with my predecessor, who was able to share her knowledge of the position with me, which has been greatly helpful. However, her last day was on Friday, which means I’m it as the chaplain at the senior living facility where I work.

When I reach out to other chaplains for advice, whether Jew or Gentile, a common refrain I hear from them is, “Take CPE units.” CPE, which stands for Clinical Pastoral Education, has units of 400 hours apiece, involving clinical work, didactic, and more. While I am very glad to hear that they took CPE units and greatly benefited from that training, there are no opportunities at the moment due to safety concerns arising from Covid-19.

Fortunately, though, I’m not chaplaining blindly, as I received excellent pastoral counseling training while attending YCT, my rabbinical school. While the training there did not count for CPE units, I certainly learned a lot of useful skills there relevant for chaplaincy.

Beyond my education, I also received great experience while in California working college students and young adults. While a different demographic, the people skills and listening skills I honed during that time were invaluable and helped set me up for success in other arenas.

I look forward to continuing to develop my pastoral schools while chaplaining.