We have endured (and grown to loathe) the mandated social distancing required to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus. But during these scary times, we have embraced a digital togetherness, connecting with loved ones and clients across platforms from Facebook to Zoom.
By necessity, nonprofits such as ours quickly took extraordinary steps to protect the most vulnerable population, older adults. We have read too many stories about how the virus can burn like a fuse through nursing homes taking scores of lives and leaving many other residents and staff very ill. Add in co-morbidities such as heart disease, respiratory compromise, diabetes and such, and the virus races to human hosts like steel to magnet.
For 70 years, Senior Community has worked to help seniors remain in their own homes as they age, and the importance of this mission became very clear once the pandemic began. The safest place for older adults, by far, is their own residence. At home, they are shuttered and safe from the virus.
The public health reality forced us to redouble efforts to continue delivering services during this hard time, although our clients have seen many other difficult periods during their lives. For some, the late winter and spring of 2020 seemed all too familiar as they recalled life during the Great Depression, world wars, and the polio epidemic of the 1950s, when another virus rode silently in warm, accommodating human hosts, eventually leaving muscles useless.
Our staff and volunteers have added personal protective garb to their dress code. Altruistic volunteers or staff have shoveled snow, cleaned lawns unkempt from winter, and made minor home repairs. Unable to get physically close to the elderly homeowners, they shout warm greetings and words of encouragement from yards and sidewalks, and offer warm smiles that transcend social distancing. Our social workers didn’t miss a beat, conducting important and vital family meetings and caregiver counseling sessions via remote video platforms.
Our digital website CareNextion.org has seen a 33% growth in utilization during the pandemic. This free and secure website was developed by Senior Community Services to help families manage and coordinate care for their older loved ones. Family members find it strengthens their caregiver network by centralizing communications, sharing task assignments, journaling to share thoughts and observation, and photographs, too.
We’ve been inspired by clients, staff and volunteers who continue to persevere through the pandemic to serve others. We’ve learned from older adults who faced adversity and hardship before, and they shared insights about how to get through it all. First, heed the advice of the experts no matter how inconvenient; the journey to defeat a microscopic virus is not for the faint-hearted. Second, laughter and a sense of humor are key in helping us get through this time of home quarantine and heightened isolation. Maintaining frequent touchpoints with family and friends is vital. Share favorite memories, as well as fears and concerns; doing so is therapeutic and healing. Together, even as we socially distance, we can be mutually supportive of each other and help, perhaps, solve a problem for someone dear to us.
We’ll get through this and be better and stronger for the challenge COVID-19 brought to our shores and neighborhoods. But already I’m in awe by what I have seen, so let’s all reflect on a most unexpected truth: Who would have thought that social distancing, borne of a pandemic, would draw all of us closer – but it has.