Succeeding Challenges and Silver Linings of 2020 ~ Misericordia Strong

Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being sure of what we do not see. Hebrews 11:1

The pandemic resulted in a sudden need to support our residents and staff during unprecedented times. I recently met with Geana Connelly Administrator of Clinical Services and Strategic Planning to discuss how our Misericordia Counseling Department faced the challenges that came with a year of COVID. The first major concern was for those who remained on campus when everything shut down in March 2020 knowing there would be no Home Visit for the residents who were so dependent on going home. Assembling her team to position themselves to do whatever was necessary to get them through it, Geana recalls, initially it was like writing a book one chapter at time. Each chapter brought changes that called for shifts and pivots to meet the various individual needs of our community. Every month, every holiday, every situation was different. And yet, it was year of learning, growing, and identifying the silver linings awaiting discovery.

In keeping with the excellent quality of life and services families have come to know and expect from our beloved Misericordia, Geana praises her department for rising to the task in extraordinary and creative ways to “hone-in on the skills and activities the residents already enjoy. They cannot come to us, but we can find ways to continue delivering, the meaningful programs residents are accustomed to”.  

Staying Connected was born and developed to continue providing the residents with meaningful programs that enable them to virtually connect so they could see their friends and maintain relationships whether they remained on campus or were home with their families. Staying Connected Newsletters are beautifully designed to keep our community aware of all the opportunities available. Each week residents and families are given a variety of options to connect through music, stories, art, games exercise, prayer, and meditation. Geana marvels at the way Staying Connected has evolved into a wonderful program which continues to grow with the times and needs of our residents and families.

Social Stories are a widely used tool at Misericordia. They are created to share information that is personalized and illustrated in a way that is easy for resident to understand. For the staff, especially during the pandemic crisis, social stories provided a common language so that everyone was saying the same thing. It helped the staff to know exactly how to respond to the many daily questions while providing support to our residents. Speaking from my heart, the staff did an amazing job utilizing this tool and making it available to families so that we could help loved ones who were with us at home understand the change in their world and learn what to expect upon their return.

Counseling Services were provided and continue to be available through phone or zoom calls whenever possible. When that method is not possible for certain residents, our counseling department will work with the QIDP to create behavior support or it can be received through RBT’s (Registered Behavioral Technicians) who are deployed for one on one.

Uncovering Hope: Recognizing the depth of the challenges staff were facing a collaboration began with Geana Connelly and LCPC and Art Therapist Sarah Peter to create a safe and inviting space where support could be given and received among peers. Compassion fatigue is a type of exhaustion you get from caring so much. Add in the complexities of a pandemic, the fear of being exposed and bringing it home to their family and the losses experienced both on and off campus; the need presented itself. During these unique one-hour sessions staff are offered the opportunity to share the challenges they experienced, how they got through it and how they continue to cope. Along with conversation Sarah provides a variety of materials for those who choose to make art. Sarah explains the benefits “Art is an amazing opportunity for reflection that is physical; you can look at it, you can distance yourself from it, it brings a new perspective because you have made art, you’ve expressed a piece of yourself on paper. Art can also be a unifying experience as similar words colors and symbols are shared and you realize you’re not alone”.

Village DSP Shannon Vidra had this to say…I have been in the village for five years working as a DSP. I attended the Uncovering Hope support group, and it was phenomenal! I found it to be extremely beneficial, encouraging and a healing experience. I really believe a lot more staff would benefit from groups like this.

While Uncovering Hope is not therapy and should not be used in lieu of seeking out individual therapy, Misericordia does provide services through the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for those who need additional support.

As I listened to different perspectives, I heard a common thread around the idea of finding the silver lining. We understand the gist behind the phrase “Every cloud has a silver lining”. Some are bright and clear, others hazy and vague. Nevertheless, you know there is something big and brilliant going on behind the scenes; that is faith!   And you want to see more; that is hope! And that is what Misericordia is all about.

Sarah shared a professional Silver Lining she discovered. “COVID changed the way I worked with residents. My focus is providing counseling and art therapy services. I was pushed to be creative, and I realized that some residents who struggled more with in person thrive in this different virtual format. The Silver Lining was realizing that services did not get bogged down, but in fact for some, it made us progress forward as personal and emotional goals were met”.

Other Shared Silver Linings

On her way to the daily COVID meeting each day Geana said she was often met by a red cardinal. Some say the cardinal comes to remind us, that though circumstances might look bleak, there is always “hope.” Be on the lookout for our Mis campus cardinal. He is still around spreading hope! Geana shared some of the other silver linings she discovered… “We learned to think in new ways. There was time to pause, reflect and recognize the blessings we often overlook. I was amazed at the resilience in our residents and their ability to adapt. I noticed the staff and residents enjoying the slower pace, often stopping to look at the flowers”.

Another silver lining came unexpectedly through the civil unrest exposed in 2020. Though Misericordia strives to embrace and accept all people “We realized we could do more to show our dedication to Diversity and Inclusion. It pushed us forward in the direction of needing to look at it for both staff and residents. With the help of staff, we are currently writing a curriculum specifically for the residents”. Updates regarding ongoing diversity and inclusion work will be included in the monthly Campus Connection employee newsletter.

Misericordia parent and retired clinical social worker Judy Wall recognizing the profound changes COVID brought to our journeys with our loved ones offered families the opportunity to meet virtually and lean on each other. Judy said for her the silver lining came with rich discussions among family members “There was an awareness that the fundamental commonality we shared through having a loved one at Misericordia, and especially from whom we had to be separated during Covid pushed aside any issues with the differences in our ages, in the varied journeys we had with our loved ones, or of the range of  their challenges”.

I thoroughly enjoyed researching and writing this article. It affirmed what I already know. The challenges we face can teach us much about who we are as individuals and more importantly who we are as a community of believers!

We are Misericordia strong!