Given the number of older adults living in close quarters, nursing homes and long-term care facilities have been particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus pandemic. In Delaware, the Jeanne Jugan Residence, in Newark, run by the Little Sisters of the Poor, quickly became a hotspot.
“That’s when ChristianaCare came to our rescue and offered their help in all areas.”“As we stepped into the unknown of the deadly battle, many of us were unsure about what was going to happen and frightened for our safety,” said the Little Sisters’ Sr. Christina.
ChristianaCare provided caregivers, leadership, medical equipment — including personal protective equipment (PPE) — and education as well.
“We had a community partner — a neighbor — who needed us in the middle of a crisis,” said Catherine Shull Fernald, DNP, RN, RNC-OB, NEA-BC, ChristianaCare’s chief nursing officer in Acute Care. “It was an opportunity to open our hearts to a different perspective on health care.”
Guided by Love
Nurses, patient care technicians and student nurses in ChristianaCare’s Acute Care of the Elderly units and floating nurse pool volunteered to work shifts at the residence, with help from ChristianaCare’s Environmental Services team.
“One of the most rewarding things about spending time at Little Sisters of the Poor was bringing our values of excellence and love out into the community,” said Kristin Macey, BSN, RN-BC, an assistant nurse manager for 8S the ACE unit, one of the nurses who volunteered. “Little Sisters of the Poor staff were so grateful for the help, yet I felt like we were just doing our part.”
Like Macey, many of the volunteers hadn’t previously worked in a long-term health care setting.
“We received many comments of appreciation from our own ChristianaCare team, who thanked us for the experience,” said Michelle Wheeler, MS, BSN, RN, CNML, clinical operations director, who provided on-site leadership at the residence.
Tim Heckman, MSN, RN-BC, an assistant nurse manager in the Transitional Medical Unit at ChristianaCare, said it was rewarding to share his leadership skills with the community. “It was absolutely evident that our presence was appreciated,” he said.
ChristianaCare taught the Little Sisters’ staff about PPE protocol and standards. “It was fulfilling as an educator to see the staff using the best practices learned to deliver safe and high-quality care,” said Kimberly Berl, MSN, RN-BC, PCCN-K, a nursing professional development specialist.
Jason Funyak, director of Environmental Services, said he was proud of the way members of his team responded to the situation at Jeanne Jugan Residence.
“We scrambled with a few hours’ notice,” Funyak said. “Two caregivers from the Environmental Services team — Prudency Ramey and Orville Berbick — didn’t hesitate … they worked for several weeks straight disinfecting common areas to combat any contamination. I was extremely proud of them for their willingness to pitch in during a very scary time, considering several residents had passed away earlier in the week.”
Reaching for Excellence
The first two weeks were “a very intense — sometimes heartbreaking — situation as residents started succumbing to the horror of the pandemic,” Sr. Christina said. But soon, the staff from both organizations were in sync.
Amanda Williams, MSN, RN-BC, said everyone adapted to a swiftly changing situation. “It’s an experience I will never forget, and I’m stronger for having gone through it,” said Williams, an assistant nurse manager on 5B.
Many of the ChristianaCare nurses quickly formed bonds with the sisters and their residents. “I had one nurse call me on her way home from a 12-hour shift to ask when she could go back,” said Dennis Harris Jr., MSN, MA Ed, RN-BC, NE-BC, nurse manager of the 6A ACE unit.
The Jeanne Jugan facility has two units, each capable of holding 20 people. The residents were accustomed to chatting with one another and spending time together at activities. Isolated in their rooms for their health and safety during the pandemic, they were lonely and frightened.
To cheer them up on a spring day, Taylor Kunkel, a nurse extern, filled Easter baskets with candy, games, books and puzzles. The baskets also included walkie-talkies so patients can talk to each other. They can also communicate their needs to the staff at the nurses’ station. Since the staff must change their PPE each time they enter a resident’s room, the handy devices help conserve supplies.
Even in the darkest times, the Little Sisters held prayer services, Macey recalled. She hopes they can soon host more people in the beautiful chapel.
While the ChristianaCare team is no longer needed on site, the support continues. Nurse managers have regular conference calls with the Little Sisters of the Poor team.
“We are forever grateful for all of ChristianaCare’s help during that difficult time, sustained by a spirit of faith and evidenced by the daily miracles of love and care,” Sr. Christina said. “We can assure our friends at ChristianaCare our prayerful remembrance always.”