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Serving during COVID

It was March 13, 2020, when I shared news of a new virus quickly spreading throughout the world with a group of assistants from all four of our L’Arche Syracuse homes at our weekly Thursday morning meeting. I told them what we knew so far and reviewed the importance of basic infection control measures.  Three days later, programs closed, and life as we knew it changed drastically.

The COVID-19 virus spread rapidly, and the L’Arche office closed, relegating all of us to work from home.  Our community gatherings, weekly prayer, and visits to each other’s L’Arche homes were suspended. As we learned more about the virus, the guidance provided by the CDC, New York State Department of Health, and the Office for Persons with Developmental Disabilities changed almost daily.  It was dizzying and difficult to keep up on how best to protect our assistants and core members.

Some assistants left to take care of their families at home.  Our voluntary German assistants were required to go back to Germany. All our workloads increased dramatically with the creation and implementation of new policies and protocols. PPE was in short supply and became very expensive.  In those first months, we had multiple assistants exposed to COVID, necessitating 14-day quarantines and leaving our homes more short-handed than ever.

I struggled with how to be the community nurse without being able to see core members in person.  My weekly home visits and monthly core member check ups were done via Zoom, which I found far less satisfying.  I worried constantly that one or more of our core members would contract COVID and become critically ill, and I worried that we would not have enough assistants to care for them properly or have enough PPE to keep assistants safe.

Throughout this period our director, assistant director, and I had daily phone calls to share updates and check in.  Our calls always started with a prayer for each other and our community.  When one of us was having a bad day, we supported and encouraged each other.  Although at times we felt lost and hopeless, there was a sense that we were in this together and with God.  The community started having weekly Tuesday prayer on Zoom, and this was a source of comfort and joy.

Acts of generosity and kindness became touch stones.  Assistants stepped up, working long hours to ensure the safety and care of our core members.  Board members dropped off baskets of goodies to brighten our days.  Family members zoomed with their loved ones.  The core members coped incredibly well with the restrictions on visitors and limited activities.  People rested, baked COVID cookies, and had theme days to chase away the monotony and boredom.

When one of our homes had 2 core members test positive for COVID, assistants worked tirelessly to care for them.  Thankfully, both recovered without needing hospitalization.  And when the vaccine became available, I had lots of help getting people signed up to receive them in the mad dash and snafus that occurred with the roll out.

I am unbelievably relieved that all our core members are now fully vaccinated and the majority of our assistants are as well.  We are cautiously beginning to welcome more visitors and to go out to restaurants and stores again.  Core members and assistants can visit each other in small groups.  It saddens me that the assistants we hired during the pandemic have little sense of our community as a whole.  I am looking forward to helping to introduce them to all that L’Arche has to offer!

By Sue Chassé, Community Nurse