Clement Manor resident Margaret Bartness chats with one of her four daughters by FaceTime. Bartness, who turned 90 on March 29, said she is “Grateful for the chance to connect with my family.” Her home parish is St. Mary in Hales Corners. (Submitted photo)

Due to the high vulnerability of the elderly and immune-compromised to the effects of COVID-19, nursing homes have found themselves on the front lines of the fight against the virus’ spread.

Nursing homes nationwide have been requiring the restriction of visitors and non-essential healthcare personnel, except for certain compassionate care scenarios, in compliance with Center for Disease Control and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid guidelines.

But nursing homes within the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are doing what they can to keep a semblance of normalcy in the daily routine of their residents, and to buoy spirits in an uncertain time.

“We’re working hard to keep everything as normal as we can,” said Keri Gerlach, director of marketing at Clement Manor in Greenfield.

At Clement Manor, about 300 seniors are cared for in a nursing home/health center, in independent and assisted living apartments, and in memory care units. Clement Manor also runs an adult day center serving about 30 clients, which has been closed since March 13 until further notice.

To abate the difficulty of the restricted visitation policy, Clement Manor’s life-enrichment activity team has been working with families of residents to deliver email and snail mail messages and to arrange Skype and Facetime calls.

“It’s not ideal, but I think everybody is adjusting,” said Gerlach.

The main emphasis throughout the campus has been on maintaining a high level of interaction with the residents in addition to the usual interaction they receive from the staff who cares for them, Gerlach said. Clement Manor has been able to continue their schedule of pastoral care visits for residents because their pastoral care team is not an outside entity; as internal staff members, they follow all protocols and receive all the same training as healthcare professionals.

Mass is still celebrated almost daily in the Clement Manor chapel and televised throughout the campus.

The staff has also instituted a 2 p.m. “Variety Show” every Friday that is shown in every resident room. “Residents across the campus can send notes and shout-outs to their neighbors; they can request a song or ask a question,” said Gerlach.

At Milwaukee Catholic Home, the residents have the benefit of a Catholic priest living within their community who has been celebrating daily Mass, which is then broadcast live through the in-house television system. The rosary is also televised daily.

“It’s a way to raise up our prayers in unison to the entire world community,” said Dave Fulcher, CEO of Milwaukee Catholic Home. Residents are also encouraged to visit the Archdiocese of Milwaukee website for daily inspiration from Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki and Auxiliary Bishops James T. Schuermann and Jeffrey R. Haines.

Milwaukee Catholic Home’s tagline is “a life engaged,” and so staff has been working to maintain the normal level of activity and interaction for the residents. But the social distancing has, without a doubt, been a trial for everyone, Fulcher acknowledged.

“We are a community that truly embraces community life and the importance of belonging to something bigger than self, where one has a sense of purpose and belonging,” he said.

Like Clement Manor, Milwaukee Catholic Home staff have also been collaborating with resident families to connect virtually via Skype and Facetime. “This has certainly reduced people’s anxiety about how their loved ones are doing,” said Fulcher.

Another morale booster that the Milwaukee Catholic Home has implemented is a “Question of the Day” posed at their daily virtual chat. Residents have been responding to questions like “What is your fondest memory of a snow day?” and “What was your most memorable birthday?”

And while it is indeed an unsettling time for staff and residents alike, Gerlach said, overall, she thinks staff members feel safer from the virus while at work than they do going into a grocery store or stopping for gas. In a sense, infection control and emergency preparedness is business as usual for the highly regulated industry of elderly care.

“This is different from a normal flu season mainly because of the awareness in the community, but the precautions are the same because those precautions have been shown to work for this particular virus,” she said. “It is definitely not business as normal, but we feel prepared for being able to take care of people and our staff.”

Want to help cheer up seniors?

Clement Manor is accepting Easter greetings and other cards and letters for residents in the nursing home, memory care and apartments. “At this meaningful time of year, many residents will especially appreciate an uplifting note and encouragement to be strong in their faith,” said Gerlach. Correspondence can be sent to Activity Team, Clement Manor, 3939 S. 92nd St., Greenfield, WI 53228.