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My Turn, Bill Johnson and Matt Beam: Trinity Oaks staff face challenge of COVID-19

By Bill Johnson and Matt Beam

While most businesses and organizations have been affected by COVID in one way or another, those of us who care for elders have probably experienced a lifetime’s worth of stress in six months. 

Protecting residents from COVID is hard work from which there is never a break. While contracting the virus is of concern even for healthy people, residents of nursing homes are particularly susceptible, for obvious reasons. 

While it’s impossible for our direct care teammates to physically distance from residents who need assistance with their daily activities, our teammates are doing all they can to be diligent with infection control, always wearing personal protective equipment to keep residents and each other safe. All the measures we are taking, including testing, are expensive, but we will gladly do whatever we must to protect our residents. 

Although we successfully held the line against COVID for many months, the skilled nursing home on our campus (Trinity Oaks health and rehab), finally did have an outbreak, with some loss of life.

Losing a resident is never easy. The bonds our teammates form with our residents are deep and meaningful. Residents become our family. Over the last month, our teammates have grieved those lost and have joyfully celebrated those who have recovered. 

The most difficult aspect of COVID prevention for residents is being separated from their family members. We had hoped that this period of isolation would not last long, but because many in the greater community have not taken COVID seriously, refusing to wear masks or social distance, the disease remains a threat to our residents and to us all. 

It’s heartbreaking for our residents not to be in the physical presence of their families. It’s especially difficult for those residents unable to understand why they must endure this sort of isolation, which even affects their interactions inside the building. Residents who were used to having lunch or dinner in a communal dining room and now must eat meals in their rooms miss the daily interactions that gave them joy and satisfaction. 

As residents miss their families, those family members are missing and worrying about them. Our own Lutheran Services Carolinas president and CEO, Ted Goins, has not been able to hug his mother, a Trinity Oaks health and rehab resident, since March. Our life enrichment teammates have risen to this challenge as they continue to  come up with creative ways to engage our residents while adhering to new and changing federal regulations — all while keeping our residents’ health and safety as their top priority. 

While our retirement community residents are less isolated than those at health and rehab, they too are missing many of the normal activities at Trinity Oaks that they love, whether it’s attending classes, taking trips or chatting with neighbors at “wine-down” events. 

Our direct care teammates are facing enormous pressure, not only to always be vigilant to prevent the disease from sneaking into the facility but to keep themselves safe from COVID in the community. Some of them are also facing financial hardships because a spouse or partner has lost income because of what the pandemic has done to the economy. 

Yet, even as many of our direct care teammates are undergoing intense personal stress, they continue to care devotedly for our residents and keep them engaged. We are incredibly proud of how they have stepped up. 

Here at Trinity Oaks, we are doing what we can to support our teammates by giving full and part-time employees hero pay bonuses each month, providing meals to teammates while they are at work and giving them some simple meals each week to take home to their families. 

It’s been hard to see Trinity Oaks close its doors to the community, including our many wonderful volunteers. Trinity Oaks was not meant to be a fortress but a vibrant community hub — a place for Chamber of Commerce receptions, concerts, Bible study, caregiver support conferences, holiday bazaars and harvest moon dances.

We are managing without these things, but we look forward to the day when Trinity Oaks is once again a beehive of activity. We are so grateful for the continued support and understanding of our residents and their families and for the support and encouragement of the entire community as we navigate our new shared reality. 

Bill Johnson is the executive director of the Trinity Oaks campus and Matt Beam is the administrator of Trinity Oaks health and rehab.

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