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Put this on repeat: Heroes shine in stormy weather

Kimberly Marselas

Hurricane Ida’s remnants inundated parts of New Jersey with up to 10 inches of rain in violent downpours last Wednesday, but it’s an outpouring of support from the state’s largest private nursing home operator that’s making news this week.

After reporting on the catastrophe that befell hundreds of nursing home patients in Louisiana during and after Ida, I was grateful to get a message from Care One Tuesday about their efforts to find post-storm emergency housing for 75 senior citizens.

Residents of the Englewood Housing Authority were forced out of their building Saturday, when city officials deemed it uninhabitable because of ongoing water issues in the mechanical room. While some had already gone to stay with family members or been placed in hotel rooms because of flooding, others essentially became instantly homeless.

City officials were worried about scarce resources in a state where Ida-related flooding deaths far surpassed those recorded in Louisiana. They described themselves as making an “impossible” request when they reached out around 8 a.m. to CareOne.

Though the family-owned operator does not have any buildings in Englewood, it has proved itself a reliable community partner for the state emergency management agency last year. In the early days of COVID-19, CareOne evacuated and cared for residents of St. Joseph’s Senior Home, where three nuns, sick themselves, were struggling to care for more than 85 residents.

As in that instance, Lizzy Straus, executive vice president of operations, once again went to work when called upon by emergency management officials this weekend. After determining which of CareOne’s 33 New Jersey locations could accept residents for at least short-term stays, Straus sent about 35 to 40 staff members to Englewood to help assist with the transition. By all accounts, they arrived with efficiency and enthusiasm — on a long weekend, in the midst of an unrelenting pandemic.

A clinical team conducted COVID swabbing and handled other medical necessities, while a second team of executives helped with background checks and other paperwork to enable Care One nursing homes in New Milford and Oradell and an assisted living facility in Livingston to take in 75 seniors by 5 p.m. that evening.

“They are guests in our community, guests who have suffered a tremendous trauma,” Chief Clinical Officer Toya Casper told me Tuesday. “We want to treat them like guests, and that’s been our plan, and that’s how we’ve managed so far.”

There was little talk up front about how long these newest CareOne residents might stay because the need for safe harbor was so urgent. Evacuees were told to bring clothing and medication for several weeks, but Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes later told local media the temporary arrangement could last six months to a year.

In that time, CareOne hopes to provide more than just beds, clean linens, meals and a welcoming environment.

“We want to make sure they feel as supported as possible while they are navigating their own crisis,” Casper said. “We have a lot of things to do to make sure they are connected with services in their community. Our primary focus right now is assisting them with their trauma and assisting them with what happens next.”

Casper, who was onsite with the incoming residents, said they were “more positive than I could ever expect for people who had just suffered such loss.”

Those new residents don’t have a lock on resiliency at CareOne, though.

As McKnight’s Editorial Director John O’Connor wrote earlier this week, there are undoubtedly tales of heroism that can be traced to nursing home staff in most any natural disaster. That we don’t hear them all that often, well, that just dampens an industry already drowning in negative publicity.

So for their ability to shine under pressure, their willingness to pivot and protect yet again, I’ll say CareOne workers earned this well-deserved praise emailed companywide by Straus on Sunday:

“We are at our best when others are in need. … Because of our company and the tireless work of our co-workers, 75 people were safe last night and will have a temporary place to stay. We can all be proud of that. (You) came to support our efforts to provide refuge to these displaced seniors. You saved lives.”

That’s good news worth repeating.

Kimberly Marselas is senior editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News.

Opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News columns are not necessarily those of McKnight’s.

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