Susan Tahaney, a social worker, went to work on Thanksgiving Day at Nazareth Home to help residents connect to their families with the help of an iPad and a TV screen.
As she pulled into the parking lot on the Highlands campus, a stranger stood silently on the asphalt holding up a sign that said, “You are loved.”
As she recounted that story May 27, Tahaney pulled off her glasses and wiped tears from her smiling eyes.
“It was like a web of support,” she said, sniffing back her emotion so she could speak.
A spider’s thin silk becomes stronger as it’s woven into the layers of a web, she explained.
“I’ve only been here a year and a half,” she said. “I don’t know what good times at Nazareth Home look like. I came two weeks before the shutdown.”
But she believes the facility and the community around it provide “a web of support” for staff and residents alike.
Nazareth Home’s two campuses, like the rest of Kentucky, went into lockdown in March of last year. But while most people locked down by degrees, residents of long-term care facilities were suddenly isolated entirely from the outside world. The staff who worked there became their lifelines.
This March, restrictions on long-term care facilities began to lift and access is now possible with some precautions.
Tahaney, the home’s program director, shared her story of the lockdown at Nazareth Home during a discussion on May 27. She was joined by Father Albert Wilson, a resident; president and CEO Mary Haynes; Jason Rader, supervisor of environmental services; and Sister of Charity of Nazareth Sharon Gray, a vice provincial of the congregation who lives on the campus.
The Sisters of Charity of Nazareth founded and still sponsor Nazareth Home Highlands and Nazareth Home Clifton. Together, the facilities have about 290 beds. The homes offer a variety of services, including personal care for those who live independently but need some on-site care, services for those with memory impairments, long-term skilled care and rehabilitation services.
The Lord will see me through
Father Wilson, who has served as a priest of the Archdiocese of Louisville for 70 years, said he’s learned to adjust to hardship in his 94 years of life.
“I didn’t like the idea of wearing a mask and being restricted, but that was the nature of the time,” he said of the lockdown. “I remember the 1937 flood. Growing up, you learn to adjust to a lot of things. We are affected by change so often, you make a habit of it.”
It helps, he said, to be with people at Nazareth Home.
“The people are always very good here. The staff are like family and we’re a family as residents,” he said.
For Father Wilson, who served as a pastor of several parishes before he retired in 1996, the lockdown provided contemplative time.
“I had time for prayer, basically,” he said. “And a lot of reading.”
Asked how he coped with the solitude, he said:
“It goes back to Cardinal (John Henry) Newman. The Lord has given me one task he has not given another, and he will see me through. That has been a sort of guide for me.”
In it together
His example and that of other residents helped the staff cope so they could focus on their work, said several staff members.
“Our elders have been through so many experiences,” said Tahaney. “They’ve been through wars. They’ve helped us get through. It’s really beautiful.”
While residents were isolated, the staff rallied to do whatever it took to help them adapt, said Mary Haynes, administrator. Standard staff schedules became a thing of the past.
“Susan came in on holidays to make sure residents could see their families” on virtual platforms.
Jason Rader, the supervisor of environmental services, said, “We were definitely in it together. You didn’t know when you were going to get off work.”
His department — and others like it in health care facilities — are among the pandemic’s unsung heroes, Haynes noted. They are tasked with cleaning, among other things.
“I was scared,” said Rader. “But I didn’t show it.”
“In the beginning, anytime we had to do a deep clean, I did it with them (his staff). And I think that built trust. This team is amazing. They’re reliable and good people.”
Rader noted that no one in his department quit during the pandemic, a feat considering they were so concerned about their safety.
Haynes added, “We all felt community.”
Creativity to last
The creative use of technology that connected families to residents in lieu of regular visits during lockdown also helped one resident “attend” a baby shower in a different state. Another resident connected to her sister for the first time in 25 years.
“The look of pure joy came on their faces” when residents saw their loved ones on the TV screen, Tahaney said. “And it was so easy to do.”
The technology has even been used for bedside vigils when a resident is dying and the family lives out of state.
“We would never have thought to do that” before the pandemic, she noted. “Now, we are so good at having all sorts of visits that are meaningful and rich all over the globe.”
Nazareth Home intends to continue using these tools, she added.
When the pandemic began and she saw what was coming, Haynes said, “I was 100 percent sure I was going to be with people who were going to support me, support each other.”
For example, she said, “Jason gave peace of mind to the nursing team” with environmental services. “They didn’t have to ask him. He learned what they needed.”
“We saw resiliency,” said Haynes.
“I say I’m in the peace of mind business,” she said, noting that she previously worked with those receiving care for dementia. She has seen how difficult it can be to leave a loved one in the care of others, she said.
“Everything we do is shaped around trying to avoid that worry,” she said. The aim is to provide peace of mind for residents and their families, as well as for the home’s staff.
Sister Sharon Gray, who resides on the campus but serves as a vice provincial of the Sisters of Charity of Nazareth, said she observed the work of Nazareth Home over the last year and was encouraged by what she saw.
“You were obviously tired,” she told the staff during the discussion. “You walked a little slower, but the smiles were still there.”
Nazareth Home currently has openings. For more information, call 502-459-9681.