“We immediately made the choice to think proactively, staying ahead – instead of reacting – and considering our own environment, what steps we needed to take, even before it was time to. We kept residents at the center of everything we do, being malleable and flexible. We brought care to where they live.”
This past March, it felt like COVID hit us all like a freight train. Brookhouse is an independent home, we are located downtown Salem, far from being isolated, our residents have visitors, go for walks, enjoy browsing the shops or getting an ice cream down the street, and regularly go out with their friends and families. Suddenly, it seemed, we were in full lockdown. No visitors, no leaving the grounds, no communal dining, distanced activities. We quickly began ordering PPE, scheduling COVID testing of all employees and residents, and managing the fears of residents, staff, and families. This is not a skilled nursing facility. We would normally never need to wear PPE, or have a resident in quarantine.
Twenty members of the Massachusetts National Guard arrived when we had to do our very first testing, and they used the front lawn of the Brookhouse as a training site for COVID19 testing. It created quite a stir in the neighborhood, and we had to put neighbors minds at ease. We got an A+ because we were prepared!! However, it was a pretty scary sight.
Emotions ran high and the days went on. This pandemic was not going away anytime soon. Residents were feeling isolated and lonely and missed their families. Some understood what we all needed to do, and some didn’t. If you are operating your facility on person-centered care, as we are, each individual has their own set of needs so, with limited staff, in a pandemic – the challenge can be great.
To me, it seemed what we needed to do is get back to family basics – take care of each other.
Culture –A strong culture can be an extremely helpful foundation during uncertain times.
I have tried to create and live by a culture at Brookhouse that stays close to our core mission and values. It doesn’t hurt to be reminded what we stand for and what we are working towards, and it’s simple – provide a respectful, safe, comfortable home for senior women, where they feel they can exercise their independence and have choices, while they still receive supports with ADL’s and enjoy a community of their peers.
Since becoming a manager, I clearly remember my many years of experience in the role of employee. I can name which bosses I admired and why, and which ones I didn’t and why. So, I simply mimicked the traits of the managers whose style I respected.
At the core, all people want to be seen and heard and feel appreciated. Everyone deserves respect. I could not run a successful home if the employees weren’t happy and felt appreciated. Everyone has a story and a home they go to at the end of the day. It may be more stressful at home than at work. So, I try to say “thank you” to everyone, every day. I try to lead by example. I try to help. I do not mind pitching in wherever I see a need, it doesn’t matter what the job is. I think transparency is the most important
Communicate – Transparency! Be sincere! It helps create trust and connectivity and allows an easier execution of our strategies. Give clear examples of what to do – Residents (COVID talk, Sharing and Caring, Staff talks, Families (emails) With new information and public health guidance outpouring, its important that we give regular updates to residents without information overload. Regular resident meetings are a good way to have a healthy balance of information and exchange.
Educate – Residents, Staff and Families. Repeat, repeat, repeat! – Fact based, science-based info.
Connect – TeleHealth appointments for residents and their doctors, Zoom and FaceTime with their families, help with online shopping, etc.
Collaborate – Our nurse led the testing , onsite, using our own people and time. We brought in a social worker because we saw the hardship of our residents.
Engage with Community
Salem is an old community and has often rallied to take care of its own citizens with its hospital work, food drives and services for the poor and homeless. A great deal of fortitude and a positive attitude then, and now, has been a huge part of it.
Organizations like, Salem Fire and Salem Police departments, Salem Board of Health, Northeast Arc and some of the Philanthropic groups, especially Salem women’s groups, offered masks, hand sanitizer and anything they thought would be helpful.
We decorated the house with hearts, we had families out on Derby Street with signs and our location in Salem’s historic district seemed to help us feel less isolated.
On Derby wharf, the flagpole at the Salem National Historic Site flew a solid yellow flag, which is the signal code for the letter Q in the International Code of Signals – the symbol for ‘Quarantine.’” We applauded the sentiment of those park service staff who hoisted this flag, and historians were quoted as saying it was a symbol of community strength that said, “May it bode well for the health of all Salem residents.”
As we face a possible second wave of the pandemic, we’ve also had to cope with the influx of tourism this past month for Halloween. We did not join the annual Halloween parade as was every other year. At this time, our ladies will not be able to see their families at Thanksgiving and probably not Christmas either.
We have begun to realize that right now – until this pandemic ends – we are trying our best to feel like family to our residents. We dressed up for Halloween and paraded down the hallways, and we will dance, sing, and decorate for Christmas again if it makes these ladies happy. It is kind of remarkable how this terrible pandemic has basically made us a tighter knit group, all 50 of us, as we plough through what is hopefully the final year of this pandemic.
This does not simply happen. We have been both captain, commander and in the trenches through this, and perhaps years down the road, we will have only one explanation for how it all worked – Community and Leadership.