This time last year, “The Coronavirus” was beginning to dominate the news. On February 26th, 2020, articles such as the The New York Times announced, “CDC Officials Warn Of Coronavirus Outbreaks In The US.” followed by quotes such as, “It’s not so much of a question of if this will happen anymore but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen.” In the United States, there were only 50 or so reported cases of COVID, but none of us could imagine what was coming. As a client care coordinator, I feel like I deliver the best care to our clients by being “in the know.” When I started to hear whispers of the epidemic, I wanted to feel prepared: armed with the facts and ready to answer the caregivers’ questions. But I, like the rest of the world, didn’t have all the facts. I didn’t have any predictions for what was to come. There were no processes in place for how to handle the impending chaos. Words like “mortality,” “morbidity,” “contagion,” and “quarantine,” seemed to be flying around my brain at record-speed. I’ll be the first to say it: my feet were planted firmly at my desk here in my office, but it felt like the world was crumbling beneath my feet.
The weeks that followed were nothing short of a nightmare. What a time to work in home-care. Work-From-Home orders were issued from the government. The news would say one thing, the CDC would say another, and within 24 hours, an entirely new piece of information would come out about the virus. Although I was scared, we have strong leadership here at SHS, and I felt very much at ease knowing that Josh was taking proactive measures to prepare us for COVID19. I remember he splurged on medical-grade N-95 masks to provide to our employees. Marie, Jan, Lisa, Josh, Sue Ann and I stationed ourselves at make-shift “distribution sites” spread over Greater Boston and Metrowest. Caregivers signed up for a time-slot, and each of them drove to our locations to pick up PPE. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget sitting parked in my car in an empty TJ Maxx parking lot, rationing out masks based on how many clients each caregiver had, and how many visits per week. “Six feet, six feet,” I told myself, and with gloved hands, I stretched my arms as far as I could to hand masks to the same individuals I was giving warm hugs to only a few weeks prior. It felt very much like a dystopian horror movie to me.
In the office, we worked around the clock to track as much as possible. We started a spreadsheet listing every assisted living facility, nursing home, rehab – you name it – and whether or not they were allowing, prohibiting or restricting visits. Everyone was doing their best to stay afloat, just as we were. There was an overwhelming sense of solidarity with our care partners. I remember “swapping” spreadsheets with the most current updates about facility lockdowns with an Aging Life Care Manager. Although it was looking pretty ugly, and things felt very scary, there was an overwhelming sense of, “we are all in this together.” As numbers of cases surged, we collectively learned how to contact-trace. Counting 14 days backwards on a calendar became the new normal at SHS. Calls were exchanged nonstop with ever-changing information. Potential exposures, unit lockdowns, quarantine mandates – there was not a morsel of normalcy left. COVID19 was changing everything, for everyone in the senior community. While the entire world was being told to ISOLATE by health experts, our clients were faced with a very unique dilemma. Our seniors need care because they are already isolated. How do we get them the help they need, when the world is told that everyone should be keeping their distance from others? How do we prioritize the safety and well-being of our caregivers, who are seniors themselves, while preserving the health and safety of the clients that so desperately need their visits?
It has been no small feat, but we’ve done just that and continue to do so. With such an adaptable and resilient team, we have been able to navigate these obstacles. COVID19 is no match for a team with determination, open communication, information-sharing, emotional support, and resources. Although it’s already been a year of living in a pandemic, I continue to be blown away on a daily basis at our caregivers’ creativity and savviness in terms of bringing meaning to their clients’ lives under such limiting circumstances. Now, with vaccinations being rolled out, the world looks and feels so much brighter at SHS, too. At the beginning of January, I found myself crying when I got a phone call from our caregiver that was offered the vaccination at the Assisted Living facility where she works. I thought to myself, “is this finally happening?” After a few more phone calls that day, it was confirmed. The feeling of joy in the office was overwhelming. Within a few weeks, more than 80% of our caregivers and office staff had scheduled & received their first dose of the vaccine.
For months, we’ve been saying, “hope is on the horizon.” I challenge that statement. Hope is here now, and it’s here to stay.
By Rachel Polcaro