Administrators and staff of long-term care facilities, residents and their family members, and a Catholic chaplain talked to Catholic San Francisco about how they are meeting the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The fear in the air is palpable,” said a San Anselmo woman named “Molly,” who asked not to identify the Bay Area facility where her mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease, has been living for the last five years. She said two residents have died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
“The lightness and joy is gone right now,” she said of the mood of the facility’s staff and patients.
The full-time caregiver her family hired to supplement her mother’s care in the memory care unit quit over fears of contracting or communicating the virus. Molly was cleared to step in.
An April 23 Kaiser Family Foundation report tracking data on pandemic-related deaths in the U.S. showed that in nearly two dozen states, 27 percent of those deaths were of residents of long-term care facilities. In some states the percentage was closer to 50 percent.
Administrators at three area long-term care facilities that are Catholic or have Catholic roots — Nazareth House in San Rafael founded by the Sisters of Nazareth; Alma Via in San Francisco, which traces its history to the Sisters of Mercy, and St. Anne’s Home in San Francisco, a ministry of the Little Sisters of the Poor — say their sites have statistically fared better.
None of the 95 residents of Nazareth House have tested positive for the virus, spokesperson Lynetta Matteo said. She credited “conservative and strict” early action, cooperation from residents and families and “God’s grace.”
“In the first few weeks of the virus scare, fear was expressed by families as to how we planned to keep residents healthy,” Matteo said.
The facility moved from early social distancing to isolation and stepped up procedures to closely align or exceed public health directives, she said.
Daily Mass and Communion in the Nazareth House chapel ceased in mid-March under Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone’s directive. Meals moved from the common dining room to in-room service, all group activities were canceled, and no visitors were allowed.
“Family members expressed difficulty coping with the reality that they could not visit” or help with mail, hair styling, laundry, walks, or trips to the doctor, Matteo said. All these tasks transitioned to staff.
Rudy Zannini, 86, a former administrator at Archbishop Riordan High School, is a two-year resident of Nazareth House.
“When they said we are going into lockdown, we had a very serious conversation with him about moving into our home and riding this out together,” his daughter Patty Zannini-Koch told Catholic San Francisco April 28.
Raised in North Beach in multifamily, multigenerational flats, “we are used to the village,” she said. The family ultimately decided, however, that the best course for Rudy was to remain at Nazareth House.
“After a couple of weeks, the anxiety among everyone seemed to settle down as we were able to prevent any cases from arising,” said Matteo.
“The hardest thing for me was not seeing anyone,” Zannini said.
The week before the state shutdown on March 17, Zannini received a smartphone from daughter Patty, who said her father learned how to text and FaceTime “practically overnight.” He participates in regular family Zoom calls.
Zannini capably took and sent a selfie to Catholic San Francisco for possible use with this story.
Zannini said he doesn’t live his days in fear of getting the virus or giving it to someone else. “Everybody here, we’ve lived our lives,” he said.
He worries about the economy and how his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren might suffer for years to come.
“When you’re 86 years old, the virus doesn’t bother me as much as the other stuff,” he said.
Father Zacharias “Freddie” Thomas is chaplain for the 125 residents of Alma Via of San Francisco, a senior living facility near Lake Merced.
Father Thomas, who applied for the role of chaplain as part of the completion of his doctoral studies in pastoral counseling, is the spiritual director for residents.
“This is not a good time, and being in the room for so long, some residents feel that they are in jail or are losing their strength,” Father Thomas said April 25.
Not able to say Mass or offer Communion, Father Thomas described his primary role now as “being a presence” to residents, “spreading Christ’s love, his compassion, his mercy and his joy.”
He makes room visits and churns out special spiritual literature on a printer for religious holy days, and he delivers it personally.
“People are very appreciative to have something to read,” he said.
Some residents asked Father Thomas for rosaries and to show them how to pray the rosary.
He called the pandemic an opportunity to “go deep into our spirituality” and “to be stronger in faith and united with friends.”
He spends much of his time trying to connect residents with family and friends who cannot visit them. He is organizing and will moderate a Zoom support group for family members of residents as well.
A spokesperson for Elder Care Alliance, a network that operates five Alma Via facilities in California, said that after one staff member in San Francisco tested positive for COVID-19, the organization began testing staff and residents routinely in rounds.
To date, no residents have tested positive, Dan Hatfield said.
Father Thomas said he believes that most residents feel “very comfortable and safe.”
As for his own health and safety, outside of meeting all the protocols required of staff and common sense, he doesn’t worry too much.
“I trust in God and he will protect me, that is my personal belief,” he said.
Sister Theresa Gertrude Robertson, Mother Superior and administrator at St. Anne’s Home, said the 80 residents have been very generous under the restrictions in place.
“Normally they are as free as a birds to go wherever they want,” she said. “Now to be confined to your room, to have to wear a mask if you pop your head out, to have tray service, to not see your family for going on six weeks. It tries their patience but they’ve been so generous about it.
“I see great generosity, I see great senses of humor, and patience, a long-suffering patience,” she said. “Their choice would be to be free and do anything they want, but they know for their well-being and for everyone else they have to follow these guidelines.”
Mother Theresa said St. Anne’s Home had an isolated case of coranavirus but no outbreak….
The above comes from an April 30 story in Catholic San Francisco.