“For us, it’s a tale of two cities,” said Valerie Palmieri, chief operating officer of Abramson Senior Care in North Wales, when discussing the center’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s a story of our campus work in Horsham and in Lankenau, caring for the frailest older adults and being so removed from their families for months. And it’s a story about our older adults who live alone in their homes: We’re a safety net for them.”
Abramson has cared for our region’s seniors for more than 150 years. From its rehabilitation and memory centers located on the Main Line, the adult day center in Northeast Philadelphia and its 72-acre campus in North Wales, Abramson is wherever seniors and their loved ones need it most. Its community-based services serve seniors in their homes throughout the Philadelphia region, and all services are designed to work seamlessly together so, that as needs change, there is never a lapse
As expected, safely operating a senior care center during a pandemic proved to be a challenge. Not only did the center have to ensure it could deliver the care and attention its residents needed, but it also had to make sure families and staff were supported. Abramson employs more than 500 staff who live off-site, and they had to find a way to get to work safely. Families who were outside looking in had to deal with their own struggles with the virus while also worrying about the safety of their elderly parents — and feeling disconnected from them.
For Palmieri, however, the biggest obstacle to overcome was caring for seniors in their homes.
“We’re a high-touch service organization,” she explained. “It’s hard for us to be virtual when you are caring for older adults that need daily care in their homes. They really did not have the daily attention and support that our residents did. They became more at-risk and the people who cared for them and went to their house — home health workers — they needed love and care and attention from their employer.”
The first step to providing care was to coordinate logistics of the care while ensuring that the homebound residents didn’t lose their connection with the world around them. Abramson reconfigured its phone bank center: What used to be a place that only handled consultative calls changed into a proactive approach as participants called homebound residents to instead check in on them and ask if they needed help. They joined with KleinLife to deliver meals at an adult day center in the Northeast that closed due to COVID-19. Abramson and staff remained dedicated to wrapping services around as best they could in a difficult time.
As the world began to reopen following the pandemic, Abramson found that so much had changed.
Palmieri compared the feeling to “The Wizard of Oz” after the tornado.
“Things are very different on the other side,” she said. “On campus is now beginning to reopen and, in August, we’re going to open outdoor visits so our residents can meet with family members physically by appointment. Before the pandemic, we had events throughout the week and over 400 visitors would come on Sundays. We would have entertainment and people join together. Will we see that again? Maybe not.”
One thing that Abramson anticipates changing in the future is the number of people going to nursing homes to live. There are more restrictions in place in these homes and, following a pandemic, older adults will likely try and stay in their homes for as long as possible to maintain their freedom of schedule. For places like Abramson, that will mean a bigger focus on community work, connecting more people to ensure services are pulled together.
Palmieri is confident that is Abramson is up to the challenge, particularly when it comes to using social media and Zoom.
“Technology and older adults are not mutually exclusive — they can work together,” she explained. “We can use Zoom and FaceTime for more than just clinical reasons, and we believe that technology is going to be hugely important as we work to connect and serve older adults.”
Abramson, like most other social service organizations in our region, has overcome immense challenges and learned how to innovate quickly to meet community needs. In the past few months, the center found a way to continue to provide top-notch care while also gaining insight to challenges of the future.
“Many more people are living alone at home that need to connect and know there are others out there,” Palmieri said. “As our older adults tap into building online communities, our work and influence is going to continue to grow. People need us to connect them with the world around them, and our priority will be to make sure we do just that.”