Masonicare 4, Winter 0 | Healthcare to Homecare to Senior Living

​​​​​February 23, 2015

By Adam Raider

When it comes to winter storm preparedness, Masonicare has all the bases covered. Secure facilities against frozen pipes? Check. Make sure emergency and alternate utility sources are working? Check. Ensure that there are ample supplies of food and water, medicine and medical supplies, and fuel? Check, check and check.

But to maintain the highest level of care for our residents and patients – even during extreme weather conditions – you need people. A string of recent storms that dumped several feet of snow on the region made travel difficult for Masonicare staff but, as always, they found a way to get the job done.

At Masonicare Health Center, preparation for winter begins before a single snowflake has fallen. All staff are provided with information about how to be prepared for a weather emergency.

“It includes tips on how to keep your family safe at home,” explained Melinda J. Schoen, Vice President for Administration at Masonicare Health Center, “but also steps you should take in case you need to get to work, like things to keep in your car or things you should pack in a bag to bring with you in case you need to spend the night here. It puts everyone in the mindset of, ‘It’s that time of year again.’”

In weather emergencies, sleeping arrangements are made for staff throughout the Health Center. Mattresses, pillows and clean linens are provided in the auditorium. Open beds on the third floor of the Sturges building and vacant apartments in the Wright Residence, Hawkins Apartments, and Johnson Apartments might also be utilized. Some staff come in the night before a storm, even though they aren’t scheduled to work, to make sure they’ll be on the premises and ready to start their shift the next day.

“We also remind everybody that no matter what your position is here at the Health Center, everybody is essential,” Schoen said.“You don’t have to be a nurse or a CNA. Whether you work in Laundry or Housekeeping or if you’re the Director of Medical Records, we can all help pass out meal trays or transport patients. Everybody can help.”

Rev. Bro. Carl H. Anderson, Vice President for Mission Effectiveness at Masonicare, spent the night at the Health Center to lend a hand during the first and, so far, biggest of the storms.

“I was up on the fifth floor of the Ramage building serving food and helping out wherever I could,” Anderson said. “I witnessed a lot of great teamwork from our staff. They’re so dedicated. They just do what they have to do. I remember one woman who had worked all night and was still working in the morning. She was still so cheerful with all the residents and so helpful and caring, and yet I know she had just worked 10 hours and probably wasn’t done yet. She was just totally committed to taking care of our residents, no matter what.”

“Obviously, there will always be staff who have situations at home that prevent them from getting in,” said Hilde Sager, Executive Director of Residential Services whose office is at Masonicare at Ashlar Village. “They would love to be here to help but maybe they have young children or a spouse who’s out plowing the snow. But we found that during these blizzards, we had more staff than we needed because enough people volunteered. We’re really fortunate.”

“Our staff were amazing,” said Masonicare at Newtown Administrator Elyse Dent. “Every department, including the directors, all stayed and pitched in. Food Service provided meals. Housekeeping and Maintenance made sure that staff who spent the night had blowup mattresses, blankets and toiletries. We had people sleeping in vacant apartments, the rehab gyms, in offices. And they’ve done this more than once. During the first blizzard when staff stayed over, everyone had a lot of fun. It was like a bonding experience. The residents got a hoot out of seeing all of us – even the medical director – serving food and clearing plates. And their families were thankful that we were here for them.”

And then there are the “road warriors” of Masonicare Home Health & Hospice: the nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists and others who navigate icy city streets and back-country roads then clamber through slush and over snow banks to reach their homebound patients.

Theresa Wilson, Supervisor of Clinical Services for the Danielson branch of Masonicare Home Health & Hospice, just celebrated her 19th year with the company. She’s seen her share of bad winters in that time but insists this one tops them all. All of the Home Health & Hospice branches have been hard-hit by snow but Danielson, the northernmost MHHH outpost in Windham County, has really gotten slammed.

“We are proactive and that’s why we’re able to maintain a high level of care for all of our patients at home,” Wilson said. “We make sure they have all of their medications, that they have food and heat and anything else they need, bringing in social workers wherever necessary. We stay in touch with their families. And we make sure all of these steps are taken before a storm comes. And then after a storm hits, we’ll follow up with patients to remind them to take their medications.”

One common strategy is to adjust schedules so that clinicians can get out to their patients before the roads get too treacherous, or wait until after the plows have had a chance to give the main roads a pass.

“The challenge comes when a nurse arrives at a patient’s home and can’t even get inside because the driveway isn’t plowed or shoveled out yet,” Wilson said. “We’ve been lucky in that we have patients whose families have been able to dig them out. But there have been times when our nurses will get stuck out there in snow banks because they’re so dedicated and will do whatever they need to do to reach their patients.”

MHHH staff will travel with bags of kitty litter to spread in front of their tires in case they get stuck, and wear traction devices over their shoes.

“There are risks involved in what they do,” Wilson said, “and they’re aware of those hazards, but they’re used to it and they’re very careful. Here in Danielson, I stay in the office until I know that all my staff is home. They know to call me to let me know they’re safe.”

Concern is a two-way street. It’s not uncommon for homebound patients to call a Home Health & Hospice branch to report that their sidewalk hasn’t been shoveled or their steps are icy. In some cases, Wilson said, patients will cancel or reschedule visits on their own because they fear for the safety of the clinicians.

Back at the Health Center, as the first of four snowstorms in as many weeks pummeled the state, there was a sense that everyone was in this together.

“Residents were very appreciative,” Bro. Anderson said. “They were starting to see the same people for extended periods of time. I’d hear them tell staff, ‘I’m glad you’re here and not out on the roads. I’m glad you’re here safe with us. Thank you for coming in.’”​

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