With conviction, Little Sisters of the Poor face Coronavirus threat

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With conviction, Little Sisters of the Poor face Coronavirus threat

ncregister.com

The Little Sisters of the Poor have cared for their elderly and infirm residents through two world wars, the Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression and numerous natural disasters.

Now, as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads around the globe, the Little Sisters’ fourth vow of hospitality to the elderly poor is bringing them to the forefront in the fight to protect those most at risk from the virus.

“One of the most challenging pieces of this is that it’s a constantly changing situation,” Little Sister Constance Veit told the Register. “You can think that you kind of have things under control, and then it gets amped up, and what you might have arranged for one afternoon the next morning has to be changed again as the situation becomes more serious.” Experts have warned that the elderly are at a greater risk than the young of dying from COVID-19.

QUARANTINE CARE
Those who tested positive are being quarantined and cared for in the residence by a dedicated group of nurses and nursing assistants who care only for those residents.

“We are devastated at the loss of our dear resident and the positive test results of six others,” Mother Margaret said in a statement posted online. “In all our homes the residents truly become our family. We Little Sisters will continue to do all in our strength to meet this challenge, keep our beloved residents safe and comfortable and provide them with spiritual accompaniment, while also assuring the safety of our staff.”

Overburdened hospitals are encouraging coronavirus patients who do not need ventilator support to be cared for at home, said Sister Constance.

“We do have some sick residents in our homes staying at home in Spain and in France,” she added. “I think there have been a couple hospitalized, but for the most part they’re still at home, and it’s really basic supportive care that we can do. It’s the kind of care and assistance that our more infirm residents require all the time.

“It’s just that now we’re having to do it in quarantine conditions. But everything is relative, because you can’t stay six feet away from people when you have to feed them and lift them and bathe them.”

For those residents whose families cannot be with them while they die, the sisters continue to fill the place of family members. “We would stay with them even if no one else was allowed to stay,” Sister Constance said. “The vigil with the dying has always been the summit of our mission, and it is such a sacred moment.”

ST. JEANNE'S EXAMPLE
The Little Sisters began in France in 1839, when a woman named Jeanne Jugan carried a blind, paralyzed old woman home one night and placed her in her own bed. Soon, other women were brought to her for care — and other women came to help.

Members of the order now number 1,935 and run 167 homes for the elderly around the world, serving nearly 12,000 residents. To this day, the sisters carry on the tradition of caring for the elderly as if they are their own family members — and as if they are Christ himself. St. Jeanne Jugan was canonized by Pope Benedict XVI in 2009.

Sister Constance is a member of the community at one of the Little Sisters’ 25 homes in the United States, the Jeanne Jugan Residence in Washington, D.C. Like at the other residences, the daily routine has been altered and continues to change as new precautionary measures are introduced.

“We do our utmost to follow all of the guidelines,” from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that govern U.S. nursing homes, she said.

Following the new rules to the letter relieves the Little Sisters of making some of the most difficult safety decisions, she explained.

Visitors are prohibited, for example, and though the residents may still leave their rooms, they can no longer congregate.
“Our residents usually eat together in the dining room in a family-style setting and sit at table together,” said Sister Constance. “We’re not doing that for the time being. Most of their group activities have been curtailed.”

Instead, the sisters have scrambled to connect the elderly in their care to family members via FaceTime, Zoom, Skype and phone calls. For those who still want to meet face-to-face, the sisters have set up a window where visitors and residents can visit safely.

MAKING ADJUSTMENTS
During Holy Week, the residents will be watching the Paschal Triduum liturgy on television, and the sisters will bring them Holy Communion in their rooms, if protocol still allows it.

The change in routine has disrupted the spiritual and social life of the residents, but most have adjusted to life in the shadow of a public-health crisis.

‘TRUST IN GOD'S PROVIDENCE'
Sister Constance, for her part, trusts that the lives of the sisters and the residents are in God’s hands.

“Our congregation has had since the very beginning this very profound trust in God’s providence, that God is watching over us and caring for us,” she said, as she contemplated the uncertain timeline of the battle to contain the virus.
“No matter how bleak or dark things might seem, God has a plan in everything, and he’ll guide us through this and out of this to better times.”

“Whether that comes at Easter, or a couple of weeks later, or months later, I think our Christian faith enables us to always hold on to that hope that there will always be time, a return to joy and feasting, because that’s really what the Christian life is all about,” she concluded.

“We have to pass through this desert to get there.”

Tue, 04/07/2020 - 11:55
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