Sometimes you can’t even remember when normal was. What does “normal” even mean anymore? Since COVID-19 hit our country, our Signature team has fought PPE battles, COVID-19 testing access issues, funding uncertainty, Kentucky’s unfair allocation of Medicaid funds, thousands of COVID-19 positive residents to serve, staffing changes, and new regulations being issued daily by state and federal governments. But the hardest challenge has been the “No in-person visitation” mandate for six months, leaving many long-term residents feeling more alone than ever before. No one-on-one visits from the outside world: no family, no friends, no volunteers, no school children doing service hours and no direct religious clergy assistance, which to me has been the most devastating issue of them all!
Signature HealthCARE has a tough job taking care of some of our nation’s most vulnerable during these difficult times, but they make it happen because we have amazing frontline heroes who serve 11,000 “Ray Steiers” 24/7. Prior to the passing of my parents nearly a decade ago, at Signature HealthCARE like Ray, my brother lived at home with Mom and Dad for 25 years, locked in a time warp with little socialization outside immediate family. All of his great friends and girlfriend at the time of his medical event had to eventually move on, which we totally understood because his illness lasted so long, and he was not the same person, which we had to accept. Once our parents passed, Ray moved into a Signature HealthCARE facility where he thrived! It may shock you, but some of his best times since childhood all happened in a 120-bed facility where he found passion and purpose again. He thrived in that special community, run by rock stars. They gave him back the things he had lost decades ago: great friends, loving caregivers, a personal chef, daily socialization, access to ice cream, access to ‘stay vacations’ in the community, unlimited rock and roll, hall mates that loved him, constant hugs with affection, a thrilling gold medal from Signature’s Senior Olympics, and an amazing leadership team that made him a big part of their family at all times, so he never felt alone.
During COVID-19, our entire industry has been heavily impacted, which you already know, but the blow to the external world that surrounds and supports our communities and residents has been one of the hardest hits that has lasted too long. Ray lost day trips outside into the community because the world shut down, lost face-to-face visits from family and friends, lost direct contact with supportive volunteers, lost cool outdoor quality of life programming, and community events. Yes, technology can be great, but he lost all the hugs and embraces with medical personnel.
Over the past six months, Ray became very depressed, stopped eating and lost weight. He became more aggressive, dealt with many medication changes, and his favorite caregiver left the company. I think it was all too much. We Skyped and FaceTimed, but it was not nearly the same. In my last few encounters with him, Ray showed me he was already a very different person, which crushed me, and I knew I was losing him.
I know COVID-19 has changed so many things for all of us. It has been inescapable. And I want you to know, Ray always had an uphill battle with regular seizures, aggressive behaviors afterward, and some mental redundancy, but HE WAS HAPPY for years at Signature HealthCARE. I often asked him ‘Ray, do you want to go home? Back where we grew up?” And he would say, “Gosh, Joe, that was a nice offer, but I am home!” This always gave me peace of mind and an understanding that it takes an extended family and specialized expertise, that many of us do not possess, to have great healthcare.
When they called to say he passed in the middle of the night, I finally got to see him. He was already gone so there were no goodbyes and sitting next to his already deceased body, I just cried because he died feeling alone in the end. Ray never had COVID-19, but I think some of it could have been very different without so much change and chaos circling around him, and the other 1.4 million long-term customers in our nation today. I don’t want to get political, but post-acute care residents, their families, and the heroes that serve them have taken the brunt of the COVID-19 devastation. It has emotionally crushed so many families, like mine, and pushed our caregivers to the brink of exhaustion, physically and mentally, with no end in sight.
Today, we all know Ray is in a better place. He had a challenging life that he chose to live with grace, joy, and kindness, but I hated how it all ended and wonder, did we do enough? At his funeral services, we celebrated him with great stories and watched his videos where he seemed happier than most of us who loved him, knowing he inspired us all!
In closing, we want to thank every Signature HealthCARE caregiver, Signature leader, and Ray’s favorite care partner Debra, who helped him along his journey. Knowing that all of you gave him parts of his life back that he lost a long time ago, and we didn’t think was possible to regain, we appreciate you more than words can say!