With a legacy spanning nearly 150 years, St. Ann’s Community has extensive experience delivering senior care in times of strife and times of harmony. In March of 2020, as lockdowns extended across the state of New York and COVID-19 cases spiraled, St. Ann’s Community knew they would have to double their efforts to support not only residents, but also staff.
For employees, risk flanked every activity from wound-dressing to laundry. “There’s no way to social distance when you’re taking care of people’s physical needs when they can’t do it themselves,” said Susan Murty, vice president and administrator.
While the first three weeks of the pandemic saw a considerable staff-attrition rate, the individuals who stayed demonstrated incredible resilience. With reduced staff capacity, everyone became direct care staff. “If you work in finance,” said Bob Bourg senior vice-president, “maybe you’re helping someone get their lunch today.”
To demonstrate appreciation for this all-hands-on-deck approach, St. Ann’s offered a bonus to both full and part-time employees. In addition to this bonus, St. Ann’s temporarily increased organizational pay, with staff interacting directly with COVID-19-positive patients receiving the highest increase.
While these benefits increased financial wellness, St. Ann’s also strove to increase emotional wellness. To further this initiative, St. Ann’s provided free meals to employees, invited an ice cream truck to campuses and instituted a free merchandise program, offering employees a selection of branded coolers, sweatshirts and hats.
Beyond these tangible offerings, St. Ann’s looked to their past to inform their present, implementing a buddy system similar to one created to move residents to a new building. In its current iteration, the buddy system drew over 100 volunteers, pairing employees with residents. These newly matched couples spend time together multiple times a week, engaging in activities or enjoying one another’s company.
For Bourg, the buddy system has been a massive success, benefiting both residents and staff. “You see the payoff for team members,” Said Bourg. “[The program] really connects people with what we’re trying to do and accomplishing our mission.”
For St. Ann’s staff, COVID-19 not only disrupted professional life, but the personal, as well. Among high school, college and nursing school graduations, over 30 St. Ann’s employees matriculated in 2020. Given stringent gathering and social distancing mandates, these graduates were unable to celebrate their achievements.
To honor these accomplishments, St. Ann’s hosted a unique celebration, awarding graduates diplomas, snapping photos and featuring the individuals in the organization’s newspaper.
While these initiatives all served to support staff’s emotional and financial well-being, these collaborative efforts yielded an additional lasting benefit, one more familial in nature. “We have to be surrogate family members for these residents,” said Murty. “And that’s what we’ve become—family.”
As COVID-19 continues to impact traditional views of care, St. Ann’s Community is taking lessons learned and shifting their own view, realizing that, as Murty noted, this experience has been one of unification. Bourg compounds on this idea: “We are living through something that will make us stronger as a team and prepare us for other potential calamities down the road.”
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