Rand Aid unites in the face of adversity

Rand Aid Association’s staff and residents have shown their mettle during the national coronavirus lockdown by adapting and innovating to promote wellbeing.

Apart from the mandated safety precautions that have been implemented across the 117-year-old NPO’s four independent-living retirement villages and two care centres, a host of measures have been put in place to support the over 1 000 residents and the greater Rand Aid family both physically and emotionally.

“It has also been heart-warming to see how residents have supported each other and how individual residents have found worthwhile and impactful ways to contribute to our coronavirus (COVID-19) response, from shopping for those who cannot do so themselves to alerting us to those who need an extra little bit of help and cooking meals to share,” says Zabeth Zühlsdorff, Rand Aid’s GM Services and Advance Division.

“Equally heart-warming is the buy-in we have had from staff across all levels,” she says.

Avril Maltman, Rand Aid’s Senior Nursing Manager, says chocolates with a thank you card were recently presented to all Ron Smith Care Centre residents and staff. “We wanted to let our residents know how much we appreciate their compliance with the lockdown regulations and to show our staff how greatly we value their dedication to the care of our residents.”

Remaining connected through communication

Rand Aid’s Community Care Co-ordination Team, village nursing staff, occupational therapists, social workers and office staff have done considerable work in addressing the emotional and psycho-social challenges emanating from the COVID-19 crisis.

Core to Rand Aid’s COVID-19 response has been constant communication with all stakeholders. “We are doing everything we can to ensure residents, their families and our employees are kept informed about relevant COVID-19 matters and the support mechanisms in place to ensure they suffer as little hardship as possible during this time,” says CEO Peter Quinn.

Written communication includes weekly updates to village residents via newsletters or bulletins from the managers; and letters from the CEO and the Community Care Co-ordination Team sent via bulk email to residents and family members. The letters contain information about Rand Aid’s COVID-19 response and share tips about coping with all the uncertainty and change.

The majority of care centre residents are very frail and the no-visitor rule has been especially difficult on loved ones. To overcome this, Ron Smith Care Centre has taken photos of residents and sent these to family members, along with a short note on how their loved one is doing.

In addition, WhatsApp groups have been established for each of the wings at the care centre to facilitate the sharing of photos and video clips with families. “The appreciation from the family members is incredibly touching,” says Sue Prior, Rand Aid’s Community Care Co-ordinator.

She shared the response to this initiative from one family member: “I can’t thank you enough for creating this platform. You have really made us feel less alone as we all share a common journey of caring for our parents.”

Applications like Houseparty are used to enable loved ones to join in on birthday celebrations.

“When resident Lorraine Lowdon turned 80, I had approximately eight family members on my phone who joined in when we sang happy birthday to her. Lorraine could see them and they could see her. After we sang, each family member gave her a personal birthday wish,” says Sr Leanie Bessinger.

At Thembalami Care Centre, which incorporates the Max Ordman Deaf Association, contact with loved ones is also facilitated via telephone and WhatsApp video calls.

Inyoni Creek retirement village office staff phone residents on their birthdays and sing happy birthday to them, which the residents love.

These small gestures make a huge difference. Tarentaal retirement village attached Mother’s Day messages to sachets of hot chocolate and presented one to every female resident. “We wanted them to know we care,” says Manager Tammy Neilson.

“We assist residents who are challenged by technology to learn how to video call on WhatsApp,” says Inyoni Creek Manager Jenny Tonkin. “One resident couldn’t believe that she could actually see her family in Australia.

“To keep the spirits of staff members up, we took individual photos of all of them and put them up on our noticeboard in reception, alongside a sign saying: ‘We are here for you’. They absolutely love it,” says Jenny.

To facilitate greater contact with residents in the retirement villages, village sisters and management teams reach out to residents via phone calls and house calls – although with the latter, the visit takes place on the doorstep and social distancing protocols are maintained.

Although she is working from home, Phyllis Phillips, Elphin Lodge retirement village’s Liaison Manager, says she phones village residents to keep in touch and see how they are doing. “Those living on their own particularly appreciate this contact. I even had an email from a son living in America to say how much his mother enjoyed our talk.”

Inyoni Creek’s Sr Hannie Combrink – who never goes anywhere without first touching up her lipstick – wears a mask printed with bright red lips when she looks in on residents, which never fails to raise a smile.

A helping hand

Looking good is linked to feeling good and with beauty salons closed, staff have stepped in to lend a hand. “Our nursing staff and porters have turned their hands to hairdressing, manicures and pedicures,” says Matron Avril.

“Practical assistance is given to all retirement village residents too, with shopping organised on their behalf and, when requested, meals from the central kitchen delivered to their homes. Where necessary, residents are assisted with laundry services and additional housekeeping support is provided to frail residents who still live independently in the villages.

“Maintaining a routine and being involved in meaningful activity is important in managing the isolation and depression that could result from the lockdown,” adds Sue. “A number of projects are thus in place to engage residents.”

A Rand Aid-wide mask-making initiative has been hugely successful. Over 850 masks have been completed and distributed among approximately 450 staff members. “The masks that are being turned out look very professional and some people are making fun masks that are becoming real talking points,” says Sue.

Another initiative, developed by occupational therapist Corlia Schutte, is the Survival Kit, a pack of activities and exercises to help residents keep boredom at bay and to encourage them to keep fit.

“The third kit has just been printed and is ready for physical and electronic distribution,” advises Corlia.

When hard copies of Inyoni Creek village’s weekly newsletter are delivered to residents, additional crossword puzzles, brain teasers, Sudoku and word search are included.

With organised physical activity not allowed under the lockdown, Elphin Lodge resident Nan Clarke, a South African Seniors Fitness Association instructor, has set up an outdoor exercise circuit for fellow residents to enjoy. The exercise stations are at five communal benches and instruction sheets are given to participating residents.

Quarantine facilities established

Rand Aid has established quarantine facilities – away from the care centres and village homes – should the need ever arise.

While all safety protocols are in place, staff who prefer not to use risky public transport are being accommodated on site, and their meals and laundry are being taken care of. Those who choose to stay at home, change out of their street clothes when they arrive at work and are provided with a freshly laundered uniform.

Free flu shots have also been given to all staff members.

On a final note, Sue reminds everyone that Rand Aid’s social workers are available to lend emotional comfort or just to chat when residents or staff are feeling overwhelmed.

Inyoni Creek’s Sr Hannie Combrink pays a quick visit to resident Kay Briggs to establish if she is well.

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