When I tell people I work in a nursing home, their initial reaction is usually to take a step or two away from me, further than the six-foot distance we are already standing apart. I assure that this is not necessary since at the Jewish Home @ Rockleigh, where I work as a dietitian, I get a mini physical each morning when I come in (temperature check, medical questions…) along with an abundance of PPE, which makes me unrecognizable even to myself and makes me feel like maybe I actually work in a space station. All staff is regularly being tested for covid (good times!) according to government regulations as to contain the virus.
The first question I am always asked when talking to people is “How many people died by you?” followed by, “How many people are still covid + in the nursing home?” Sadly, we did have residents pass away from the cruel virus and we mourn our losses. However, the stories so often not heard on the news and in social distancing conversations is about all the recoveries we are celebrating. And celebrating we are!
Every resident that is fully recovered and is either discharged or moved to a non-covid unit enjoys a graduation parade, which includes upbeat music, cheering staff members, and of course the graduation certificate/diploma, which puts a smile on everyone’s face. As for how many residents are positive for the virus, that number continues to grow — not because the virus is being spread, but because we are now admitting covid + people coming from hospitals to recover and get state-of-the-art rehab by us.
These recoveries are not spontaneous. They come from the hard work of all the staff members from all departments. Housekeeping is constantly cleaning and disinfecting rooms and public spaces. Recreation is busy with 1:1 visits to make sure residents are not lonely and can “visit” with their family members via Zoom (thanks to the help of the IT department). The nursing staff are non-stop busy attending to all the medical needs. Maintenance supplies individual refrigerators to all rooms per request. The front desk acts as a liaison between families and their loved ones, bringing them much loved food and belongings from home. As for the kitchen, we have developed a special covid menu for those residents that are weak and not able to tolerate a regular hot meal. This menu consists of Haagen Dazs ice cream, Ensure, jello, yogurt, Gatorade, and homemade milkshakes. The kitchen also works tirelessly to accommodate any personal meal requests. Staff walks around daily with a variety of snacks and drinks to keep everyone well nourished and hydrated. Staff is not forgotten in this aspect. Carl’s Place, our in-house diner, has been converted to a staff lounge, with free food all day long to keep the staff going.
And going they do! Job descriptions are blurred right now, and all staff helps out any way they can. I really enjoyed watching the bus driver from the Gallen Center dancing at an outdoor milkshake party with several residents last week. Other staff members have been trained in safe feeding to assist the residents that need help with meals. It’s great to see everyone working together.
Last Friday night when I ate dinner with my family, we went around the table saying the highlight of our week. My highlight was walking into a resident’s room last week and seeing her sitting up in a chair, eating chicken-fried rice, with a big smile on her face. Just days before she was lying in bed with her eyes closed, not responding to her name and needing full feeding assist to eat chocolate Haagen Dazs ice cream several times a day in order to give her enough nourishment to bring her to where she is now.
My kids did not seem surprised at all that I chose that, since I had been talking about getting her to eat all week long!
So it is not all doom and gloom at the nursing home as it may seem. I am happy to go in each day and work with all the Jewish Home Family staff and residents. That’s what brings me joy in these crazy times.