From rainbows to FaceTime: How staff is helping seniors in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis

At the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, residents make rainbows with the help of staff. "It's a symbol of peace and hope," says Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Shoshana Friedman
At the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre, residents make rainbows with the help of staff. "It's a symbol of peace and hope," says Therapeutic Recreation Specialist Shoshana Friedman

Mood in long-term care “calm” as staff does “amazing job of not bringing what’s going on in the outside world onto the inside.”

Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, Recreation Specialist Shoshana Friedman has been bringing paintbrushes, markers and pencils into seniors’ rooms to have them create rainbows. The artwork is posted in windows for the outside world to see.

“It’s a symbol of peace and hope,” says Ms. Friedman, one of four Therapeutic Recreation Specialists working with the seniors at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre. “We want to convey the message to the outside that it will be okay. We are okay.”

The small gesture is just one way that staff at Donald Berman Maimonides (DBM), one of six long-term care sites in our CIUSSS, is responding to the unprecedented challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.

With everything from artwork to family phone calls, sit-down conversations to individualized exercise classes, employees have redoubled their efforts to ensure residents are protected and cared for during a trying time.

“The situation has brought out the best in people,” says Jennifer Clarke, Program Coordinator at DBM. “Staff is very conscious that this is hard on residents, who are not able to see their loved ones. They’re trying to give them extra attention and they’re doing the work that needs to be done. The attitude has really been amazing.”

Through phone calls or FaceTime, staff has focused on keeping connections between residents and loved ones. They try to share special occasions with residents’ children and grandchildren. When a resident at Maimonides recently marked her 102nd birthday, staff celebrated with a cake and sang happy birthday, then sent a video of the party to the woman’s family.

In other cases, staff is helping family “reunions” at a distance. They wheel residents to the facility’s first floor so they can wave to family members through the window, helping create poignant moments of affection.

Group activities such as fitness classes have been suspended due to coronavirus concerns, so educators have begun offering exercises to one or two residents at a time.

To meet the unrivaled demands, staff has had to shift to roles outside their job descriptions, and into tasks where they’re needed most. For example, a member of Housekeeping has played gin rummy with residents. Allison Friedman, who is an Educator, is feeding residents breakfast each morning, making sure to take time to talk to them one-on-one.

“We’re showing a lot of love to the residents and trying to keep their regular routines as much as possible,” Allison Friedman says.

Despite the upheavals caused by COVID-19 everywhere, staff says that within the walls of Maimonides and other long-term care sites, the mood has remained unusually calm.

Dr. Mark Karanofsky, a physician at Donald Berman Jewish Eldercare in our CIUSSS, says he observed recently that residents at the long-term care facility were “calm and cool.”

“The staff did an amazing job of not bringing what’s going on in the outside world onto the inside,” he says. “And it was all hands on deck. Staff really made sure the patients and residents were comfortable and cared for, and really in good spirits … nobody was anxious.”

Shoshana Friedman observed the same atmosphere at Maimonides. “It’s very Zen. Everyone is stepping up to the plate, because these are hard times and everyone is sensitive to that. There’s less agitation. It’s amazing.”

While they care for others, staff members are often setting aside their own personal pressures, including concerns about aging parents of their own. What helps, they say, is that they can count on one another.

 “We’re there to support each other,” says Allison Friedman. “I know that at least I have my colleagues, and they make me feel better.”

Nothing can ever replace the loving presence of a son or daughter by the bedside of an aging parent. But under the toughest of conditions, staff at our CIUSSS is rising to the occasion with care and devotion, one rainbow at a time.

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