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In the past 40 years, ArchCare has faced some daunting challenges. In the late 1980s, when the Willowbrook State School abruptly closed, the health- and elder-care ministry created a home and treatment center for dozens of severely disabled children; when fear led mainstream providers to shun a growing population of HIV/AIDS patients, ArchCare built a long-term care center to welcome them. The ministry developed a first-of-its-kind treatment program for sufferers of Huntington’s disease and other severe neurodegenerative illnesses and rewrote the book on elder care, allowing many seniors to receive state-of-the-art care while continuing to live at home.
When Covid-19 came to New York, the leaders of ArchCare took quick action against a relentless and deadly foe. Almost all of the agency’s clients are at high risk for the coronavirus. In a chaotic marketplace where fear was high and availability of personal protective equipment was low, management and caregivers made extraordinary efforts to protect patients and staff. We asked four leaders of the ministry to reflect on what they have been through and what their goals and strategies will be in the pandemic’s wake.
Hugo Pizarro | Chief Experience Officer During the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned to pivot at a fast pace, as guidance and information were constantly evolving. We tracked information in real time in order to inform rapid decision-making. As a result, for example, we shut down visitation days earlier than the government mandate, which was a critical move in keeping our staff and residents as safe as possible.
Dr. Walid Michelen | Chief Medical Officer ArchCare relied on data to make decisions during COVID-19. Yet while data is crucial, we learned that it took more than statistics to reassure residents, family members of our residents, and staff, who were justifiably frightened as the pandemic ramped up. We learned to present the facts to families in a way that was transparent and clear but made them feel safe emotionally.
Scott LaRue | CEO I was overwhelmed by our care team’s willingness to do whatever was necessary under very difficult circumstances in order to protect our residents and patients. At a time when we didn’t yet understand the virus, and we didn’t have all of the protective equipment that we do now, still our staff went in and treated our patients with exceptional care and love.
Fr. John Anderson | Vice President, Mission Integration One of the biggest takeaways from this season of pandemic has been the realization that, as caregivers, we are both wounded healers and bearers of hope. We have all been touched by the pandemic and we have all been wounded in some way. At the same time, I have been deeply encouraged by the hope we offer to one another. We have seen ordinary people doing extraordinary things, caring for their neighbors, and coming alongside one another to grieve and encourage as a community.
The pandemic has forced a degree of emotional integrity that we haven’t experienced before. I’ve found people to be more patient, more thoughtful, more kind.
Scott LaRue The Covid-19 pandemic has integrated us into the archdiocese in a way we haven’t been before. Because of ArchCare’s health-care expertise, we were able to provide information, guidance and services across the archdiocese. We were so pleased to be able to support our colleagues and friends, from training for reopening schools to in-home testing. When a community of nuns were struggling to manage the virus, we transferred some into our facilities and helped others isolate in their home.
Hugo Pizarro This challenging time has highlighted the strength of everyone in our organization and has bolstered our communication. In the spring, we aligned on daily calls to discuss management of PPE, cases, staffing issues and more. Having implemented these integrated communication methods, we were strongly positioned to tackle the challenges together.
Dr. Michelen As a system, we fared well by relying on the science. I am proud of the webinars that we developed to keep families and staff up to speed on the latest facts, figures and precautions throughout the pandemic. We have been open about any issues so that families and staff feel “in the know” and reassured that we will address any points of concern.
Fr. Anderson ArchCare staff – clinical and non-clinical – have been an inspiration to behold. During the pandemic, caregivers have been called upon to serve those entrusted to our care and their loved ones in often new and profound ways. They were facilitating communication between family members and their loved one, including, at times, just before their loved one died. Many stepped into a role and level of accompaniment that they never anticipated and that wasn’t included in their training. Now in addition to sharing life’s celebrations, they are sharing tears.
The Road Ahead
Hugo Pizarro It can be a challenge for all to remain vigilant for this extended period of time, but we encourage New Yorkers to continue taking precautions seriously. ArchCare has taken every precaution in order to make our nursing homes a safe place. Our PROTECT program is designed to enhance infection prevention through state-of-the-art technology, a team of infection prevention professionals and a central command structure that will ensure the highest level of safety across our residences and programs.
Dr. Michelen The financial burdens that the pandemic has brought to our communities will last long after the virus is contained. Another challenge will be managing the treatment of chronic illnesses that may have been less of a focus during the pandemic. We have invested in technology that allows us to treat patients at home more than ever before. We will need the trust and patience of New Yorkers in order to implement these new technologies and services to their fullest capacity.
Scott LaRue The pandemic has highlighted the fact that a lot of senior care is moving toward in-home and community-based services in lieu of institutionally based care. We should soon see a transformation in the delivery of these care services. Our Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) and Home Care services will lead the way.
Fr. Anderson With everything we have already been through, there will be more challenges ahead. Grief often takes time to surface. The profound loss and suffering as a result of this pandemic may not be fully realized until months or even years from now. Knowing that, we must be sure we are supporting people’s emotional, psychological and spiritual well-being as well as their physical safety.
It’s also crucial that we help the elder community and those who love them feel comfortable in nursing homes again. I believe there will always be a need for long-term care, and I’ve seen firsthand how people can thrive when they live in a community like ArchCare’s. We have to build that comfort and trust again, not just through investing in infection control and safety measures, as we have, but by investing the time it takes for meaningful communication and personal interactions.