On this Memorial Day weekend, when our hearts have been made tender by isolation, we give profound thanks to those who have walked before us and given their lives for our freedom.
When the bombs landed at Pearl Harbor and we learned of the atrocities at Auschwitz, it was no doubt hard to have hope for the future. But we rallied. When children stood in school hallways watching looping video of planes flying into twin towers, we hugged each other tighter than we had before, and we rebuilt.
Now the risk of an invisible invader is in our air and on our hands and we so desperately want to hold one another again. We may be isolated, but we are not alone. We rise up and repeat to ourselves “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’” (Jeremiah 29:11).
At the crossroads
In just a matter of a few months, the world has changed dramatically. The pandemic has touched all of us to one degree or another. Now we, like you, find ourselves at a new crossroads: Should we begin to ease restrictions or does our commitment to the most vulnerable among us require us to remain vigilant? Can we say yes to both?
As a Christian Ministry, we are strangely comfortable living with such tensions:
- Is Jesus human or divine? Yes!
- Are older adults vulnerable or resilient? Yes!
- Are we concerned with physical health or the health of relationships? Yes!
As we read in Jeremiah 6:16, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it and you will find rest for your souls.’”
Thank you for your prayer and your counsel as we stand at this crossroads and seek the good way.
Now, this is where we normally conclude this verse, by giving thanks for God’s commandments and the advisors around us. But, the hard context of Jeremiah’s time has special meaning for us. Jeremiah begins in Chapter 6, “Flee for safety, O children of Benjamin…” as the Babylonians were invading, and a time of exile was foretold.
We too feel surrounded by invaders – invaders that are unseen and wait in the air and on our own hands to infect those we love. We so desperately want to embrace our family and friends again, to take a risk for the sake of love. Many of us are also caregivers or live with someone who is immune compromised. If we expand our circle of contact, we know very well that our hands, created to serve others, may infect those we love the most.
We stand at this crossroads, but now we get to Jeremiah’s proclamation in chapter 31, verse 31-34:
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.
Aren’t we fortunate?
Finding the good way through vigilance
- To be the recipients of the new covenant
- To have come into this pandemic with a hope like this
- To be clothed with the power of the holy spirit
- To stand at the crossroads of this day with Christ beside us
- To be called to administer God’s grace in its various forms
At a time when society around us is easing restrictions and making plans for “re-opening,” we are also planning for greatly expanded testing amidst a continued increase in COVID infections. We know that our path will continue to be defined by managing the tension between the safety of isolation and the risk of isolation.
We will continue to be vigilant to serve and protect the most vulnerable. We are facing a virus and disease that seriously affects the lives of older adults both physically and through isolation. Our hearts break for families who have lost loved ones to this disease and we pray for God’s comfort to enfold them. We also ache with family members separated from their loved ones.
We took steps early to connect with state and national agencies and prepare our teams for what was to come. We put measures in place to restrict visitors and vendors and limit movement in order to minimize potential exposure. Among the many precautions, all staff and essential visitors are being screened as they enter our communities through controlled access points and we are conducting daily screenings of all residents in assisted living, memory care and care centers.
Guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS)
still restrict visitors and activities in assisted living, memory care and care centers. We understand the extraordinary sacrifice residents, family and friends are making right now by avoiding in-person visits in our buildings. This is a very difficult, but effective step for mitigating the risk of COVID-19 transmission and we are thankful for virtual, window, and outdoor visits in the interim. We have only been allowing family members to enter our buildings when they fulfill an essential role in their loved ones’ care. According to the federal guidelines, a nursing home’s re-opening will be directed by state health departments in several phases based on broad testing and a period of several weeks since no new COVID cases.
Finding the good way through testing
We are actively working with state agencies in Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin to increase access to testing, including testing for those who have not yet shown any COVID symptoms. There is growing evidence that persons with COVID-19 become infectious days prior to developing symptoms, and many develop only mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. We have implemented a number of campus-wide tests with the support of state teams. While the availability of test kits has been largely limited to those with symptoms, state testing programs are ramping up capacity with a goal to make tests available to all employees and residents in our care.
We have been actively working on several steps that will aid in this broader plan of testing. We have already implemented eye protection for all direct care givers and provided masks to all staff. We are also working through our essential staffing plans to help ensure backup support in the event staff are diagnosed positive and are no longer available to provide care. PHS has established robust “cohorting” plans, a best practice recommended by state and federal authorities, to group positive residents, assign dedicated staff, limit exposure to other residents and conserve precious PPE. PHS is also unique in having our own central staffing team and process of redeploying staff to fill needs at sister locations as needs arise.
We consider ourselves fortunate, in comparison to so many others, that among the 8,670 residents and nearly 7,000 employees at our 49 PHS locations, we currently have 49 residents and 63 employees who are confirmed COVID positive. Each individual is in our prayers constantly, and each new case re-ignites our efforts to prevent the next.
Finding the good way through community
We continue to work with state and federal agencies and rely on data to shape our plans as we start leaning into ways we can allow visitors, re-open life enrichment opportunities, and resume normal operations, as it is safe to do so. We continue to believe in the power of community and we are actively working to reshape our services for the near and long-term.
We will not abandon our call to feed the hungry, look after the sick and reach out to the stranger in need. We are fortunate to have come into this situation from a place of stability as an organization, and together with our many partners, we will rise up to this challenge.
We are truly blessed by the hearts and strength of our people, the depth of our functional expertise, and above all, the continuing commitment and deep purpose of our caregivers. We have also been taking steps to respond to the broader societal needs presented by COVID-19. One such measure was to postpone the demolition of our former Langton Place care center in Roseville, which the State of Minnesota selected as its first non-COVID alternative acute care site
. We partnered with Allina Health to establish a dedicated COVID recovery site
at our Interlude Restorative Suites location in Fridley, Minnesota, and we have committed a full-time administrator to support Minnesota’s response effort in the State’s Emergency Operations Center
At a time when so many organizations have been laying off or furloughing employees, our goal is to keep everyone employed. PHS has a committed team of nearly 7,000 employees, including 1,170 with more than 10 years of service! The words of our Employee Promise, that “employees are the most important resource in our ministry,” have never been truer. We are humbled by the countless actions and expressions from employees relaying their clear calling and purpose during this time. We have even been able to help residents from other organizations which haven’t had the depth of staff that we do. At the same time, we know that employees are in challenging circumstances and we have assembled a host of resources to support them. We have also established a process to fast-track the hiring and training of caregivers
who are truly essential in this challenging time.
As a small gesture of gratitude, the PHS Board of Directors has authorized giving each employee up to $1,000 based on hours worked as special appreciation pay. This gift is being funded largely through donations
to recognize caregivers for their significant and sacrificial service during this time.
When the hard news of COVID positive tests has come in for residents or staff members, employees have consistently stepped forward. These mighty warriors are in our prayers constantly and they are being recognized in special ways for their service.
In addition, we have created staff prayer chains, worked with our employee insurance partner to waive employee costs related to COVID testing and ensured that no employee will go unpaid for time away from work due to a COVID diagnosis. We have created a childcare resource hotline for employees as they balance work and family responsibilities and we have an extensive supply network to help ensure that employees have the personal protective equipment to do their jobs safely. In addition, we have established an employee hardship fund to come alongside employees in crisis situations to the extent we are able. We are committed to an environment where employees are valued and empowered to make a difference.
We stand at this crossroads not separated, but together. Not only will we survive this, but with our many partners we will ensure that older adults and our employees continue to thrive with joy and purpose.