Friday, March 13, 2020. I remember that day well.
Since early January, we at the Jewish Association on Aging had been keeping close tabs on a new “coronavirus” that had significantly affected a senior care facility in Washington state, and was slowly spreading among other western states. Beginning in February, we had already made changes to our screening process, and, appropriately, on that Friday the 13th, we received the official notice that we needed to close our doors to visitors immediately.
JAA’s senior managers gathered in our boardroom to discuss the new protocols we were putting in place. Little did we know this group would continue to meet daily for the next year, becoming our Incident Command Team.
In the months that followed, this management team worked seven days a week and too many hours to count. Updates with our physician medical directors occurred daily as well. Hundreds of new policies and protocols were put in place with a moment’s notice, all in an effort to implement best practices as soon as we heard about them, or to keep up with changing regulations.
As the world around us changed, so too did our ability to adapt to new ways of providing care and keeping connections. Telemedicine visits with PCPs, psychiatrists and other specialists became the norm. We became a tele-provider of physical therapy services. Activities and programming became virtual, including an online seder and Shabbat services, and art classes via Zoom. Family visits became virtual as well, with our residents looking forward to family FaceTime or Skype visits, or “window visits” through plexiglass barriers. Not ideal at a time when residents were already feeling so isolated from the ones they loved and each other. Our staff grew even closer to our residents as they were their only human connection, even though donning PPE with face masks and shields was our routine.
This past year has shown us at the JAA great tragedy with loss of life; great spirit by staff who continued to come in day after day to fight as hard as they could against this invisible enemy, putting themselves and their families at risk; great sadness at the closing of our five-star nursing facility, Charles Morris; great resilience by our residents, most of whom really helped to keep us going; great collaboration with so many local and national agencies that helped us in our fight; great support from our board and community; and now, finally, great hope, as we move forward in a new “post-vaccine” world.
What a difference a year makes. This year on March 13, were happily working on reopening plans, including reuniting families with loved ones in person. We breathe an ever-so-slight sigh of relief that we had early access to the vaccine for our residents and staff. We have extended our contact with Jewish residents in other nursing facilities. We are beginning to work on plans to repurpose the former Charles Morris space for the benefit of the community, as part of a larger re-envisioning of “JAA 2.0.”
Things will never be the same at the JAA after coronavirus. However, like the Jewish people have always done, we persevere and we move forward. We take the lessons we have learned and embed them into our future plans. Working together as a team and as a community, we galvanize our strengths and look forward to a tomorrow that is brighter. A new beginning … exciting and promising. PJC
Deborah Winn-Horvitz is president and CEO of The Jewish Association on Aging.