The news, when it came, sent shock waves through the Jewish community. For the first 10 months of the pandemic, Shalom Village had managed to hold the COVID-19 coronavirus at bay through stringent protocols and screening. But the residence and long-term care home ran out of luck in December, when virus swept through the home with alarming speed, eventually killing 20 residents. The outbreak would keep residents confined to their rooms for two months, with Shalom Village staff filling in for family members.
Below, Vanessa Pazzi, wellness coordinator for the apartments, and Brigitte Bonas, recreation manager for long term care reflect on the resilience they witnessed during the lockdown.
HJN: What was it like for residents during the lockdown?
BONAS: They were so scared. Can you imagine all of a sudden you’re locked in a room? A lot of people are not well, and the staff changed, and there weren’t people they knew anymore. We had such a buzz here—we had great events, parties and trips ... and all of a sudden we were on pause. Some of them didn’t even know who we were when we walked in their room with all the PPE we had to wear.
PAZZI: Some (of the apartment residents) coped better than others. Some were quite fearful, especially not having family able to visit. Some said they felt really grateful that they were living in a place like Shalom and not isolated out in the community.
HJN: What changed for the staff during this period?
BONAS: The recreation team at the Shalom Village nursing home stepped in like family. The residents recognize us and they’re kind of secure with us. We brought them treat carts, did art in the room, and we spent a lot of our time facilitating Zoom calls with family members.
PAZZI: We used our in-house cable channel to offer exercise, Jewish Family Services’ Kibitz program, and movies right to their apartments, and most days they’d have a visit from a staff member just to sit with them. Residents also received phone calls from people in the community so that was helpful too.
HJN: What were some of the hardest moments during that period?
BONAS: I had one man return from hospital and I was quite close to him. I walked into his room and he said, ‘when did you start working here?’ He was so happy to know it was me and then he said to me, ‘hug me,’ but I can’t hug him so I said, ‘let me take your arms’ and I just held him. And I gave him his dinner. He’d gone through a lot. He’d been away, came back to Shalom, and then he died. Some people are family. We spend so much time with them. You just get so close to them. You can’t help it.
PAZZI: The residents certainly missed their families, and the lack of touch affected them. But I’m actually blown away by how some of them have taken to using technology, like learning an iPad in their 90s and how to connect to programs over the telephone. So although I think they have struggled, I am surprised by how resilient they’ve been.
HJN: How have things changed since the lockdown?
BONAS: I love the people that live here. We’re really close now because we’ve all been through this, and I have a lot of respect for my staff. These are young people who care and work crazy long shifts. I have recreation and music therapy students coming back. They’ll be tested and they’ll be brought back to work with the residents. They still want to come intern at Shalom even if they have to get COVID tested, and have a placement in an environment that is really safe.
PAZZI: Our residents are so happy just to be out in the hall. They can walk in the hallways with their mask on. They can go for a walk outside if they choose to. They’ve been vaccinated, and so has the staff. Having that little light of hope has made a big difference in their world. We are a very close-knit community. We’ve had residents who have lived in other communities say they came here because it feels more like a family here. The Jewish community has been so supportive. They’ve reached out to us with special deliveries, donations and phone calls. I think that’s what sets us apart as well. Even if you’re not Jewish, that support is still available to you as a resident and has been a really big part of getting through this.