Chaplain Serves as Non-Anxious Presence to Those Highly Fearful of COVID-19

By Rev. Bev Wrobel*

I am the chaplain at Ohio Living Breckenridge Village located in Willoughby, Ohio. This beautiful life plan community is home to 780 residents. The majority live independently in ranch homes and apartments. We offer short-term rehab and long-term care at the Fairmount Health and Rehabilitation Center. The attached Nason Center offers assisted living and has a specialized memory care unit. The Lyons Chapel and my office are located in this building.

Chaplaincy allows me to be involved in the daily lives of residents and team members offering a listening ear, compassion, support and counsel. I am a spiritual caregiver who reaches out to anyone in need regardless of their faith tradition, denomination or beliefs. Typically, there is a weekly Christian chapel service on Fridays that provides worship opportunity for residents, especially those unable to attend local church services.

In the midst of this pandemic, I focus on being a godly non-anxious presence for those who are highly fearful. Communicating in person or by phone with residents and family, and supporting a dedicated team of administrators, nurses, aides and environmental services personnel as they care for our most vulnerable.

Visitation restrictions were implemented at the Fairmount Health Center on March 11, the day after our adjacent county confirmed its first case of COVID-19. The first week was very emotional as changes were being mandated almost hourly. Information was coming from the Centers for Disease Control, the Ohio Department of Health, Governor DeWine’s office, our corporate office and the executive director. Sadness and confusion prevailed. All visitors into our licensed area stopped. Team members helped residents make FaceTime calls; consoling them and their loved ones. The physical distancing has been heartbreaking, especially for those residents who don’t understand. One daughter dropped off a cell phone to her 90-year-old mother and then tried to show her how to “swipe it on” through the window!

Activities were stopped and our directors became even more creative by having choirs and musicians sing and play to the residents from outside the windows, including a bagpiper on St. Patrick’s Day. All regularly-scheduled trips, concerts, chapel services, and bible studies were cancelled and further protocol for social distancing was implemented.

The second week of this new world, I felt like I was in a fog; still hard to grasp how significant the pandemic was. Residents could no longer see family members and spouses who live in other areas on campus were restricted from coming into the Health Center. Dining rooms throughout the campus were closed. Residents began receiving meals in their rooms or apartments and feeling further isolated.

By the end of the week, all incoming traffic entered the campus one way through a security check; getting temperature taken and health questions asked. Only team members and essential personnel were allowed in. Workers were being allocated where needed to take care of residents and address situations. Three food pantries on campus enable residents to get food and needed items without going out.

Into the third week, word was received that one of our independent living residents tested positive for COVID-19 and was hospitalized. It was hard news to hear throughout the campus. Everyone was assured that all precautionary measures were taken and would continue; and that there were no confirmed cases at the Fairmount Health Center. Many were feeling overwhelmed and worried. I provided support and prayer throughout the coming days to help alleviate anxiety while wrestling with my own feelings of emotional and spiritual depletion.

Then all independent living residents received an email outlining only two reasons to leave the campus … to go to a doctor’s appointment or to get medication. The compassionate but stern message was: STAY HOME with a reminder that the average age of our residents is 86 years old!

At the beginning of week four in this new norm, we remained on high alert. Residents returning from the hospital were in single rooms in designated areas at the Health Center, personal protective equipment was stocked, masks were worn and there are movement restrictions within the care facility. I worked on recording prayers, Chapel messages and meditations to be shown on the in-house television channels operated on campus, and I reached out to local churches to provide messages to be broadcast.

Caring for residents who have experienced a recent death is a priority as many are feeling isolated. Addressing the emotional wellbeing of our team is essential. Finding new ways to be community in the midst of physical distancing is significant. Conference calls and emails are the norm for communicating. Offering Scripture, prayer and a brief reflection at the beginning of meetings has been appreciated.

Team members continue to make the absolute best of the situation. They are creative, caring and dedicated. The biggest fear isn’t getting the virus, it’s becoming a carrier who brings it into the facility. All staff entering the campus last week were greeted with a large colorful sign that read, “Heroes Work Here!” with additional handmade signs put up by residents throughout the week. They were an encouragement!

Now at the start of week five, the routines of residents continue to be disrupted. The cancellation of daily activities and lack of social interactions are noticeably taking a toll. Masks worn to protect the residents are hard to speak through to many who are already hard of hearing. People are scared but hopeful. The prevailing attitude is choosing positivity … believing we will get through this.

At times, I feel like I’m carrying a huge weight … the residents have needs, the team has needs and I wonder, “Am I doing enough?” But then, I regroup, sit with the Lord and continue on. I am blessed and there is ministry to do. I am reminded that the Lord has given me all that I need to assist others … most especially, He has given me Himself and that’s the gift I yearn for all to have.

*Rev. Bev Wrobel is a Deacon appointed beyond the local church as chaplain of Ohio Living Breckenridge Village in Willoughby.