PHOTO: Family visits are back: Sylvia Bushaw and her daughters had to be content with outdoor visits over the past year, but now as restrictions relax, they get to play games in her apartment at Rose Schnitzer Manor.
BY DEBORAH MOON
This year Passover’s journey to freedom has been a viscerally joyous one for seniors living at Cedar Sinai Park.
With most residents and staff fully vaccinated and COVID restrictions relaxing, the seniors are enjoying getting out of their apartments and rooms. Small group seders were just one sign of the new freedoms (see related column about the seders below).
“Our vaccine rates and decreasing positivity rates in the Portland metro area have created the opportunity for CSP to come together in person,” says CSP CEO Kimberly Fuson. “In addition to indoor and outdoor visits, small group activity and small group dining, perhaps most important is the human connection. Our souls are lifted; We’ve begun, albeit cautiously, to hug again. This is the result of the indomitable spirit of each and every member of the CSP team throughout the pandemic. I am truly humbled.”
Under the relaxed restrictions, residents now can gather (socially distanced) in groups of 10 or fewer; family visits are permitted with a limited number of families in the building at one time and only two people per family. Activities have resumed including bingo, exercise classes, Resident Council, music, crossword puzzles, word games and art projects.
Even with the vaccines, Kimberly emphasizes PPE (mask/shield/gown), hand hygiene and distancing continues to be the best defense.
Administrator Krista Mattox, Harold Schnitzer Center for Living/Robison Health Center, says residents have enjoyed seeing their friends who reside in other houses in the community.
“They are more able to move about the facility and participate in an expanded variety of activities, such as bingo and group singalongs,” says Krista. “Mostly, the ability to visit with their families has lifted spirits and brought comfort in knowing they are loved by seeing and talking with them in person.”
Robison resident Rose adds, “I’m so glad we can come out of our rooms and do some activities and I can see my family.”
Across the street at Rose Schnitzer Manor assisted living, residents and family are also enjoying the new openness.
“Families have been very complimentary of the care we have taken with the residents thus far,” says RSM Administrator Vivian Villegas. “Residents are very happy to be able to visit in the privacy of their own homes. Families are grateful to be able to come in and celebrate birthdays in a normal loving manner.”
“Family members are bringing the sunshine in,” says CSP Spiritual Life Coordinator Cathy Zheutlin. “They are patiently putting up with our insistence that they get a rapid test before entering the building. I love seeing all the new life around here. It’s such a joy!”
“Visits with my family, with my children, are the highlight of my life,” says RSM resident Marion Gans. “To see them in person and have some private time together has been a joy.”
“We are excited to finally have a conversation without a video,” one family says.
“As Dad became a resident at CSP during lockdown, we had yet to experience any activities or visits, so the reopening is a welcome change,” says Cynthia, the daughter of a newer Robison resident. “We are both looking forward to discovering all that CSP has to offer and more time together!”
Passover kicked off a return to the dining rooms (for small groups).
Just days before Pesach, CSP decided the county’s low positivity rate made in-person seders possible. Life enrichment and leadership staff ensured all were appropriately distanced, disinfected and PPE’d at each seder.
“Passover in the dining rooms will bring life back to the dining rooms that have been dark for over a year,” says Vivian.
Yet as hard as the past year has been, CSP Life Enrichment Director Nancy Heckler says the pandemic has created closer relationships between staff and residents.
“We were forced – in an endearing way – to be the families of the residents,” says Nancy. “We set up one-on-ones and spent time with them. It is such a positive – really, really knowing residents in a personal way.”
Before the pandemic, Nancy says she (and other staff) would interact with and have exchanges with residents but not with such intensity. She says the new closeness was important to the residents, but she was surprised to see how important it was for the staff, as well.
“They have grown together,” she says. “I see the relationships in pictures and conversations.”
Even as things open up and families begin to return, Nancy believes the staff will continue with one-on-one interactions, though on a smaller scale.
“Seeing what happens with those relationships, I think we will continue,” she says. She adds the staff will also continue to facilitate Facetime visits with families. “They are able to connect with family across the country, across the ocean or down the block. Though it’s not a replacement, we have learned it is still a huge factor in staying connected.”
As doors swing open, Nancy also has enjoyed seeing the higher energy, alertness and engagement of residents. After a year of seclusion, she says some emerge instantly smiling, clapping and singing. Others emerge a bit more tentatively. She saw two old friends come to their first activity and nervously look back and forth across the six feet between their chairs. “By the end, you could see they were relaxed.”
Bingo and music have been winning ways to bring the residents back together.
RSM resident Joleen Rodinsky says of bingo, “It’s fun. I didn’t win once last time, but it’s fun!”
“I’m so happy I get to see my daughters, and I get to hear the piano music,” says Robison resident Jean Hasson.
Nancy, who often played the piano for participants in CSP’s Adult Day Program before it was suspended during the pandemic, now plays the piano in the living rooms of Robison and RSM.
“Music is a great equalizer,” she says, adding residents can “sing, hum, smile, tap their toes …”
Through all the ups and downs of the past year, one thing has not changed.
“The mission and CSP’s person-centered approach are the same,” says Nancy. “We did that well before, and we do it well now. We’ve tweaked it a little bit, but the core hasn’t changed.
Chaplain's Corner: The Power of Dayenu
BY RABBI BARRY COHEN
Back in 2018, as I began to establish the brand new position of “Community Chaplain,” one of the first things I did was reach out to Cedar Sinai Park.
After a few back-and-forth conversations, we decided that I would visit every Tuesday morning for breakfast as a way to get to know residents and establish connections. These visits became a part of my routine. While the small talk was engaging, these surface-level interactions often led to deeper conversations and opportunities for me to provide spiritual and pastoral care.
Then COVID-19 hit. For the sake of safety and security, the doors of Cedar Sinai Park became selectively open to those from the outside. Understandably, my Tuesday breakfasts were put on hold.
Fast forward to this year’s Passover celebration. I was invited to lead two of the sederim, and we confirmed plans for me to cover the second night of Passover. It felt surreal as I prepared to return to Rose Schnitzer Manor after more than a year.
One of the songs of the Passover seder is Dayenu (roughly translated as “it would have been enough for us”). Dayenu is broken down in a number of verses, each one thanking God for the various steps we took from bondage in Egypt to freedom in the Promised Land. In years past, I have taken this song for granted as just another step leading to the seder meal. But this year, I understood – I felt – that we sing Dayenu to cultivate a sense of gratitude for everything that is good in our lives.
This year, based on what I experienced at Cedar Sinai Park, I will remember most our singing Dayenu.
For my being tested for COVID in the Rose Schnitzer Manor lobby: DAYENU!
For my returning to the Newmark and Holzman Dining Rooms for the first time in more than a year: DAYENU!
For interacting with residents as they found their seats, even though I still had to wear a mask and a face visor: DAYENU!
For re-introducing myself and leading the opening song: DAYENU!
For discussing the importance of washing our hands to protect ourselves and others: DAYENU!
For talking about what matzah represents in the COVID-19 world: DAYENU!
For chanting the Four Questions together: DAYENU!
For listening to residents describe the Four Children and talking about which other kinds of children and adults need to be welcomed to our table: DAYENU!
For making sure everyone knew what page we were on: DAYENU!
For not caring about the side conversations that were taking place: DAYENU!
For telling the story of Moses, culminating in the lesson that all Jews are responsible for one another: DAYENU!
For adding how we are responsible for all of humanity: DAYENU!
For reciting the Ten Plagues and adding contemporary plagues, such as the pandemic, social isolation, threats of climate change, wildfires, systemic racism, sexism and bigotry: DAYENU!
For singing Dayenu and calling out what we are grateful for: DAYENU!
For adding symbols to the seder plate, such as the COVID-19 mask: DAYENU!
For eating matzah, followed by maror, symbolically connecting the pain of slavery to the pain we are feeling today: DAYENU!
For the delicious seder meal: DAYENU!
For singing Birkat Hamazon, the prayer of gratitude for the meal and for being together: DAYENU!
For hoping that Elijah would arrive at last, not just for the safety and security of the Jewish people in particular, but for humanity in general: DAYENU!
For counting the first day of the omer: DAYENU!
For noting that the story of our liberation does not end with freedom for freedom’s sake, but for the freedom to serve a higher power and the freedom to serve one another: DAYENU!
For seeing that many did not want the seder to end, and instead spontaneously choosing to sing a couple of additional songs: DAYENU!
For realizing that the encouragement and hope I received was far greater than anything I shared: DAYENU!