Health Care Hero Stories

“Everyone’s life shifted overnight.” This is how Sherry Dudley, LPN describes what happened in March 2020. “Before then, residents enjoyed access to the campus, but after, we needed to keep them in their rooms as much as possible. Before, we could communicate freely and be understood. After, our masks made comprehension difficult for them. Before, residents had daily interactions with friends, family, staff and visiting entertainers and professionals. Now, we staff are their only in-person visitors and we’re the closest thing to family that they have.”

Concerned about the loss of stimulation that is affecting her residents, one of Sherry’s goals during this tough period is to help create as much safe interaction as possible. She spends extra time chatting with them when visiting their rooms to deliver care. If the room is dark and closed in, she opens their blinds to let in light and views. If a family ‘window visit’ is planned, she helps prepare them so they can enjoy the visit as much as possible.

Although she recently transferred to the rehabilitation unit, Sherry previously cared for residents on the night shift. She fondly remembers helping a family plan and execute a COVID-safe 95th birthday celebration. The family dropped off decorations and gifts the day before. She and other night shift staff decorated his room while he slept. When he woke up, he was surprised and delighted to be surrounded by birthday decor and good wishes. Then the staff helped him prepare for his family window visit, and the family enjoyed watching him open his gifts. For our Altenheim heroes, where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I worry about my residents more these days,” confessed Christopher Griffith, night shift LPN, when asked about changes he has experienced since the pandemic. “I pay attention to every symptom. I feel badly that they have lost many of the touchstones that help them feel comfortable and the activities that help them de-stress – like visits from family and friends. Many are having a hard time recognizing their familiar caregiver faces, which they can’t see right now because of the protective equipment. The consistency and stability in their lives has been affected.”

Christopher describes wearing full PPE as “like being inside a snow globe,” especially when his glasses fog up. He has learned to exaggerate his merriment to help residents understand he’s trying to cheer them up. Each time he enters a room he offers bad jokes to lighten the mood (“I get pity laughs, but at least they laugh,” he said). He also tries to stay and chat, and to listen. “I don’t want to lose that one-on-one human connection we have.”

Christopher’s concern carries over into his personal life as well. “I have a professional responsibility that doesn’t end when I go home. “To keep residents safe, he stays away from social outings and goes to the Metroparks to walk and bike. “Whenever I’m tempted to be with family and friends in person, I tell myself, don’t be an idiot,” he said. “It’s a temporary sacrifice for the good of our residents and my colleagues.

Lani Dancel, Housekeeping and Laundry Supervisor, grew up in the Philippines and helped to care for her grandparents when she was young. This prepared her well for her career at Altenheim. “Altenheim is my second home, and the residents and staff here are like a second family,” she said. “If I can make the residents happy, then I am happy.”

Lani’s responsibilities include overseeing the cleanliness of resident apartments and laundry operations in all the Altenheim facilities. She makes sure that protocols are followed, that her staff are well trained, and that they have everything they need to do their jobs well. Pandemic protocols require extra cleaning every day in masks, gowns and gloves, and gloves are changed between rooms. “It’s our job to do this well so that we keep everyone safe,” said Lani.

But more than this, Lani believes her presence is important for residents, especially now. “I visit residents even if they didn’t call for anything. I want to bring happiness to them, especially now when we’re locked down. I can feel their pain even though I’m not in their position, so I try to make them smile. I open the blinds to brighten their rooms and give them something to look at, and I stop to chat for a few minutes when I can since they have no family to cheer them. I’m trying to give them hope.” Lani’s empathy improves all the lives around her.

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