The idea came from Nelson Reyes, director of dining services for the Jewish Home at Rockleigh.
With three hundred-plus employees of the skilled nursing facility working hard to safeguard their own health and that of the residents against covid-19, why not allow staffers to buy staple groceries onsite? This would save them precious time and minimize their exposure to public places.
The Jewish Home Family’s president and CEO, Carol Silver Elliott, thought Mr. Reyes’ notion was brilliant and she worked to implement it quickly. “We know it’s not simple for our staff to find the time to go to a store after a long day caring for our elders, so we brought the store to them” she said. “We simply upped our usual order from suppliers and sold the items at our cost.”
The first in-house convenience store was set up at the Jewish Home at Rockleigh on March 27. Employees found a choice of eggs, three types of industrial-size loaves of bread, a variety of milk, and — of course — toilet paper. “We had a tremendous number of people come in,” Ms. Elliott said. “They not only expressed their appreciation but commented how it made their life easier.”
She plans to continue the Friday market every week until the coronavirus crisis is over. A similar enterprise has been started on the campus of the Jewish Home Assisted Living facility, where the total staff numbers about 150.
During Passover, the Friday convenience stores also will stock a few kosher-for-Passover staples. “We do our level best to keep fully staffed and keep people healthy,” Ms. Elliott said. “Staying out of public places like supermarkets will help them stay healthier. And why not make life easier for them if we can?”
Other steps the organization has taken to help staff through this period include a “personal time off bank” into which employees may deposit unused personal hours that other employees may apply to withdraw. The Jewish Home Family also is offering training for staffers who wish to work extra hours in other capacities, employment opportunities for staff family members who are jobless during the pandemic, and telehealth services for staff and their families.
Inevitably, the pandemic presents some staffing challenges because of absences due to childcare or health issues. “We are managing, but if anyone knows a retired or nonworking nurse or other medical professional who’d like to spend some time here, we’d love to hear from them,” Ms. Elliott said. “We’d be very grateful if they can help us.”
As a temporary measure during the crisis, the state is permitting healthcare personnel with out-of-date credentials to fill such positions, she said. For more information, email the Jewish Home Family vice president of human resources, Lauren Levant, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Meanwhile, even employees who ordinarily are not involved in patient care, such as the staff in the finance department, have received training as dining assistants — as per New Jersey law — to help fill trays and serve people individually. That’s necessary because residents are confined to their rooms or apartments in accordance with distancing measures to avoid contagion.
Ms. Elliott has assisted with meal delivery. “It’s not just dropping off the food but staying and encouraging people to eat,” she said. “Now that our residents are not able to be in the communal dining room with their friends, and no visitors are allowed, we’re really focused on making sure people do eat and drink.”
That goal is also accomplished by stocking each unit with tempting high-calorie snacks such as Haagen Daz ice-cream cups and Ensure dietary supplement.
Passover necessarily will be different than usual at the two facilities.
“Normally, both campuses have great big seders, with families in attendance,” Ms. Elliott said. “Of course, that can’t happen this year. So we bought a plastic seder plate for each person that will be delivered with the meal, loaded with all the symbolic items. And on both campuses the closed-circuit TV system will broadcast the seder.”
The coronavirus will not put a stop to another beloved Passover tradition at the Jewish Home: a chocolate “seder” led by Ms. Elliott — this year, via Zoom — featuring treats such as chocolate milk and chocolate-covered matzah. “It’s always a big hit, especially at the assisted living campus,” she said.
Because this is a such a stressful time, Ms. Elliott continued, much thought has been put into keeping both employees and residents in good spirits. There have been themes like “Wacky Wednesday” and baseball.
“Even though baseball didn’t have an opening day this year, we had our own,” she said. “We passed out baseball-themed snacks and presented our own parody of ‘Take Me Out to the Ball Game’ called ‘Don’t Take Me Out to the Ball Game.’ There was strolling music in the hallways and people dressed up in baseball outfits.”
Ms. Elliott said the administration is also making regular gestures in small ways to help make staffers smile. Tokens of appreciation have included pocket-sized tubes of hand cream with a label reading “You are the cream of the crop.”