AMERICAN AUTHOR Pierce Brown said, “Home isn’t where you’re from; it’s where you find light when all grows dark.” In a time like we’d never seen, the pandemic gave us many opportunities to find light. At Lincoln Manor (LM) in Fayetteville, it was an opportunity that forever changed the bond between residents and the staff. Beautiful and bittersweet relationships spontaneously resulted when home in assisted living and a global pandemic collided.
Although the pre-COVID atmosphere was warm, what happened during that hard season made the meaning of home even sweeter. The doors to the world outside closed behind staff and residents, holding other personal connections at bay, and their hearts opened to each other. Friends and family did their best to connect with their loved ones through the windows while both sides of the glass longed for a personal touch.
Alyssa Shields, executive director of LM, said, “These residents are on up there in age, and tomorrow isn’t promised for any of us. Having to tell families they had to see their loved ones through the window or talk to them on the phone was the hardest part. Residents had no physical touch except from us. We’d try to hug them and just love on them because nobody else could come in. It was like we were in our own little world here, and we tried to make the best of it.
It was a time when so many healthcare professionals made career changes, overwhelmed by the demands on those in their field.
“There were days I thought a job change would be easier, but I reminded myself it wasn’t only hard on me, it was just as stressful on the residents and their families. For many, we became their only in-person human connection,” said Courtney Smith, a resident assistant.
Human connection draws residents to assisted living facilities, and developing meaningful bonds of friendship is one of the many positive elements of life at LM. Social events, recreational activities, special outings, shopping trips, and religious services are among the activities promised there. But not during COVID. Residents even ate meals in isolation.
“We had to put their food and drinks on a cart and roll it down to their rooms. They couldn’t even sit and eat with their friends,” said Brittany Horn, a resident assistant. “The residents didn’t get to go anywhere. Not even Walmart. It was so heartbreaking to see.”
But walls and measured distances can’t put boundaries around love and relationships any more than the seashore holds back the sea. Bonds forged during the pandemic bridged the ocean of difficulties brought on by it. A stronger team of co-workers emerged, committed to improving the residents’ lives. There’s a new depth to the love among the staff, residents, and their families. Success is measured in hugs and smiles.
Stephanie Williams, business office and dietary manager, said, “If we are making them happy, then we’re doing our jobs.” One of her favorite things about working in her calling is watching a resident laugh and have a good time during an activity or outing.
“At Lincoln Manor, we are a team, everyone willing to pull together to make it home for the residents. None of us are perfect, but with the help of one another, we try to make it as perfect for our residents as we can,” said Wanda Dunnavant, a registered nurse.
Resident assistant Krysta Britton agrees. “Some of these residents don’t have a lot of family to show them attention and make sure they feel loved. I love being that person for them.”
There are many layers to LM employees’ emotions.
“One of the hardest parts of my job is watching my residents suffer emotionally. Many of them grieve the loss of their loved ones or the loss of their old selves. It’s difficult watching them during this time, knowing there isn’t much I can do to comfort them, but that still doesn’t stop me from trying,” said Britton.
As with any bond, the sense of loss is deeper when a resident passes. The staff mourns with family members, but their relationship doesn’t end when the family packs up their room.
“Once you come into the manor, you’re always part of the family. I think that’s what sets us apart from other facilities. We treat them like they’re our own,” said Shields.
At LM, the power of human connection and the resilience of the human spirit shines brightly. Residents and staff weathered the storm together within the manor’s walls, redefining their sense of family and unity. They emerged not just as survivors but as a testament to the enduring strength of the community, reminding us that even in the face of adversity, home is where the heart finds its truest light. GN