The Pandemic at Sunnyside - Part 2

[This is the second article in a series about how the pandemic has affected life at Sunnyside.]

Life at Sunnyside, and indeed throughout Virginia and around the world, has not been the same since January.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that every aspect of life in our community has been transformed.  This article continues a look at some of these transformations.

Volunteers are not currently allowed into the Health Center, so in some ways the life of Volunteer Coordinator Bryce Strawderman has slowed down considerably.  On the other hand, “remote volunteering” has come to the forefront in ways that had not previously been foreseen.  Bryce recounts that “many resident volunteers were able to sew reusable masks in their homes and drop them off in the Corson Lobby.  More recently, volunteers have been writing letters and cards to residents and have used FaceTime and Zoom for video conversations.”  While Bryce herself has been stretched in ways she hadn’t anticipated, she feels this has been “awesome” for her.  “I’ve done a little bit of everything, from working in dining to covering the front desk.  I’ve found that it takes a village to make things work, and being part of our Sunnyside team is something that is very important right now.”

COVID has also impacted Assisted Living in numerous ways, two of the most important of which are restrictions on visitors and the inability to have communal dining.  Director of Assisted Living Crystal McCarthy explains: “It’s been particularly difficult for residents not to be able to have face-to-face visits with loved ones.  While we’ve worked hard to be creative in allowing residents to see family members by FaceTime, Zoom, and no-contact visits, it has not been the same for AL residents, and this has been challenging.”  Crystal feels the residents have handled this difficult time extremely well and have maintained a positive outlook.  In addition, the inability of residents to eat in communal dining spaces has affected their socialization.  Recently some dining services in dining rooms have been resumed, and despite the new restrictions, residents are happy about the change.  Another challenge has been hiring new staff as well as maintaining current staff during COVID, but Crystal reports she is “proud of how they have pulled together as a team to help each other.  We’ve done a great job here staying positive during this unprecedented pandemic.”  

Clinic Director Cathy Shifflett reports that the clinic has also been greatly impacted by COVID.  Like Crystal, Cathy cites the “disconnect” involving personal interactions with residents as a special challenge.  “We depend on communicating with residents via telephone, and when necessary wellness visits are occurring regularly.   We have also been coordinating with the task force team in creating appropriate protocols to ensure residents are kept safe.”  This has involved additional, and time-consuming, screening and making appropriate recommendations on the need to quarantine if this seems necessary.  The clinic manages the quarantine list and shares this important document with other departments.

One of the challenges for Chaplain Services is that Chaplain Jeff and Chaplain Pat implement their roles in “getting to know residents while offering in-person counsel, small-group programming encouraging people to share their vulnerabilities, congregational worship, and being physically present with residents and their families.”  Given the reality of COVID, Chaplain Jeff and Chaplain Pat, like many others, have had to adapt how they do their jobs by doing them differently.  At the current time some small group in-person gatherings and one-on-one in-person interactions are once again occurring, while congregational worship, Bible Study, and regular meditations are being broadcast on Channel 971.  Both chaplains continue to be present in-person and virtually in one of their most important functions—to provide support to residents and families in the final days of life.  Both chaplains offer the encouraging word that “we have adapted and are committed to offering resources for holistic spiritual wellness, vitality, and compassionate support through group gatherings, worship, and one-on-one interactions, both in-person and virtually.  We are here to share the journey.”

Executive Director Charlotte Sibold is in a unique position in that COVID has been part of her work since she started at Sunnyside.  She explains that this “has made it challenging to get to know residents and staff and to communicate with them.  I’m relying on small gatherings, Zoom meetings, and rounds on the campus to get to know folks and interact with them.”  It’s been even more challenging to get to know AL and HC residents because COVID has forced most of them to stay in their rooms.  Another issue Charlotte has had to deal with since she came on board is trying to make decisions about reopening and relaxing restrictions.  She states that “the leadership team and I want to do what is best for residents, to keep them safe from COVID while being mindful of the social and emotional needs of those we serve.”  The ultimate lesson of the pandemic?  “I think we’ve learned to appreciate the simple things in life.”

Read John's first article in this series here.