Posted June 22, 2021 in Articles
Author: McKenna Corson
On May 19, Menorah Park resident Don Rubin did something he hadn’t done for well over a year – he danced with his wife of 64 years to live music. Something that had once been so mundane to Don and Elaine Rubin became a delicious taste of much desired normalcy.
COVID-19 safety protocols had banished residents of Helen’s Place, Menorah Park, R.H. Myers, Montefiore, Stone Gardens, Wiggins Place and Willensky Residence in Beachwood and The Weils in Bainbridge Township to their rooms or apartments, but as COVID-19 vaccines continue to roll out and case numbers drop, residents have been invited to return to a modified way of life reminiscent to that before the pandemic altered everything.
But on that Wednesday afternoon, as about 15 residents and their family members spread out across the spacious Sallie and Robert D. Deitz Piazza in Menorah Park and enjoyed beloved classics of the 20th century, music returned to the halls of the nursing home.
“It’s different if you start out with nothing, but when you start out with all the wonderful activities Menorah Park has and then they shut down, it makes it difficult,” said Elaine Rubin, a resident of Lyndhurst and a member of The Shul with Rabbi Eddie Sukol.
Elaine Rubin and the couple’s daughter, Karen Schultz, watched as Don excitedly moved his hands and feet to the rhythm of songs like 1964 hit “My Girl” by The Temptations and 1961 bop “Stand by Me” by Ben E. King.
“The live music has always been relaxing, and it’s wonderful,” Elaine Rubin said. “It just makes you feel calm and like you could go on with your life.”
Programming like live entertainment, summer barbecues, outings, gardening, exercise classes, wine tastings, happy hour and arts and crafts have made triumphant, safe returns – coupled with safety protocols and ongoing vigilance, said Menorah Park CEO and President Jim Newbrough. Pearl’s Place snack shop, communal dining in the dining room, spiritual services in the synagogue, visitation and many other shops and activities have reopened their doors for members of every residence pavilion to experience.
Menorah Park’s outside services, like outpatient therapy at the Peter B. Lewis Aquatic & Therapy Center, hospice services, home health care, adult day care and the facility’s childcare center have also started back up or continue to work.
“The normal at Menorah Park prior to COVID was a very active, vibrant community keeping people moving and social,” Newbrough said. “The new normal may have some small nuances to it, which we’ll deal with. But we really want to get back to that interaction, socialization, educational programming, spiritual activities we offer that bring people together in that common bond.”
Menorah Park continues to follow safety guidelines spelled out by the Ohio Department of Health, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and an internal infection control team that’s constantly monitoring all the regulatory changes.
“Our team cares about the welfare of these residents and their family members, so they’re getting real creative,” Newbrough said. “They’re determining, ‘How do you work within the guidelines so that we’re not doing anything we shouldn’t, but how can we be creative, so that we can start to do things that allow people to come back in social settings?’”
Safety protocols differ from residence to residence due to different residence types – i.e., nursing home, independent living, assisted living, memory care – requiring more or less safety regulation, said Menorah Park director of public relations and marketing Beth Silver.
All visitors and staff are screened for symptoms, use of hand hygiene and any possible exposure to COVID-19 when first entering a Menorah Park building, and they are asked to wear masks. Residents and staff are tested depending on their location and vaccination status.
Volunteers are only coming back to fill essential roles, like those who help visitors maneuver Menorah Park’s winding halls or run Pearl’s Place. Residents are required to stay in their own residence buildings for activities and moving about.
“The last few weeks, we’ve had zero new cases throughout our communities,” Silver said. “Everything’s holding well. We can’t abandon our best practices, we have to use the science and the recommendations of the public officials, as well as our medical professionals, our infection control teams, and constantly keep our eyes on that and be prepared for contingency plans.”
Silver referred to Menorah Park’s vaccination process as “going well” and that “we have a community very interested in becoming vaccinated.”
It’s due to these precautions, on top of the vaccines and dwindling case numbers, that Connie Nusbaum was finally able to hug her mother, Menorah Park resident Pauline Crum, after 14 months of window visits in rain, snow or shine.
“It was very exciting, there’s no doubt about it, just to be in the same space,” said Nusbaum, a resident of Chagrin Falls. “... You take all those little things like hugging for granted in day-to-day life, but they’re a big deal.”
The two resumed their favorite activity of playing cards like no time had passed, with Crum besting her daughter like normal.
Nusbaum sees a future of near-daily visits with Crum, as they both said they feel safe due to the safety guidelines and both having received their vaccines.
“There’s going to be bumps in the road, cases that happen, but that’s expected,” Nusbaum said. “You can definitely see the light at the end of the tunnel, that we’re in a way better place than we were a year ago.”
As Menorah Park’s doors open, residents are able to venture out of the homes they were kept inside of for their safety for so long. On May 20, Wiggins Place residents were surprised with their first outing since the pandemic – a bus ride to Edgewater Park in Cleveland, frozen treats at Honey Hut Ice Cream in Parma and a tour all around Cleveland.
Lead life enrichment coordinator of Wiggins Place and bus driver Tracy Derschau took the full bus of 12 residents on what she calls a “mystery ride,” where residents try to guess their destinations using hints Derschau provides. Derschau decorated the bus with colorful balloons and blasted 1980 chart-topper “Celebration” by Kool and the Gang to create an energized party atmosphere.
“Outings are probably my most favorite thing to do, because so many of our folks don’t necessarily have family around to take them to different places,” said Derschau, a resident of Streetsboro. “I’ve always said, ‘Just because you’re in assisted living doesn’t mean you don’t get to still live life and be part of your community.’”
The outing was a hit for those on-board, like Art Glassman, who enjoyed Honey Hut’s ice cream for the first time, and Ida Kaufman, who left Wiggins Place for the first time in over a year.
I’ve lived in Cleveland all my life and I’ve been downtown many times, but I’ve never been on a trip like this,” Kaufman said. “It was a wonderful trip.”
For three-year Menorah Park entertainers Tyrone Hornbuckle and Jennifer Wampler, both residents of Garrettsville, coming back to the long-term care facility with instruments in hand was more than a return to their once weekly job.
The musical duo made their much-awaited return debut in the Piazza for Menorah Park residents May 19.
“We’ve made friends here over the years, and so it was a blessing to be able to come back,” said Hornbuckle, who recalled bursting into tears with Wampler when they received the email asking if they could resume performing at Menorah Park. “(The residents and I) have a mutual love for each other. They know me by name, I know them by name. It’s a wonderful thing.”
While Menorah Park continues to discover ways to safely start back to normal, Menorah Park vice president of residential services Nancy Sutula said some aspects of pandemic programming will continue into the future.
The video pen pal program, where Menorah Park residents and local schoolchildren exchanged video messages with one another, was devised in the pandemic as a way to bring safe socialization to the long-term care population.
“While the pandemic has been tremendously hard for all of us, this was a bright spot,” Sutula said. “We actually got people a little more comfortable with technology who maybe weren’t previously.”
Sutula said that it’s imperative Menorah Park continues to use or devise programming that can be done virtually or remotely just in case the pandemic returns with renewed vigor.
“While none of us have a crystal ball, we will continue to utilize technology and think of other ways to use it to enhance the programs that we already do live,” Sutula said. “What that looks like right now, I don’t really know, but we’re starting to explore that and to kind of develop new and different programs.”
Newbrough said that maintaining ongoing contact with residents, family members and staff will be imperative as Menorah Park wades back into familiar waters. But no matter the journey ahead, Newbrough keeps his head held high, knowing that he and everyone at the long-term care facility will do whatever possible to maintain residents and staff members’ safety.
“I’m very confident in the team of people we have here, because they are so committed, caring and dedicated,” Newbrough said. “They care about the residents, and they’re so very creative, that I am fully confident that we will adapt to whatever that new normal is to get back the essence of what we are here at Menorah Park.”