When COVID-19 struck, senior living communities had to shut off access from the outside world. Families and residents were kept apart. Care-givers covered up with masks and face shields to protect our residents. But without adequate testing, proven treatments, and a vaccine, these caregivers were battling a threat unlike any they had ever faced before.
New restrictions were thrust upon senior living communities and required that every caregiving team member learn new ways of doing their daily work. We knew how hard the restrictions would be for our residents, and we all worked hard to help them cope and even thrive amidst the isolation.
As fear from COVID-19 grew, that fear was felt by our employees. They knew they were as susceptible to contracting the virus as anyone else. They also knew they had to stay healthy so they could defend our vulnerable populations from this unseen force.
We thought COVID-19 would be the hardest thing our industry would ever face. And then came the spark from the horrifying killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. That spark ignited fires throughout our city and beyond. Our caregivers grieved alongside the peaceful protesters. And as the evenings turned violent, and this violence came near some of our senior living communities, our teams once again, put their own fears aside to protect and serve our residents.
This is courage. These are heroes.
We are awestruck by the sheer bravery and sacrifice we have witnessed by those who work in senior living. We witness the genuine love that our team members show to residents who feel alone. Even in the midst of pain, there is so much good all around us in our senior communities.
Minnesotans have sacrificed much to protect each other from COVID-19. But the nature of senior living communities is daily care for our parents and grandparents, many of whom have pre-existing conditions that the virus attacks quickly and effectively. Since COVID-19 reached Minnesota in March, we have all seen the daily stories about new outbreaks and the mounting count of deaths.
The stories are important to tell because Minnesota needs to understand the unique risks faced within senior living communities. Without these stories, lawmakers would not have known that we needed more PPE and testing. These stories are still important as they continue to help regulators understand that they must provide guidance more swiftly and confidently.
But these stories are incomplete. Thousands of senior living residents have fought and won the battle against the coronavirus. Minnesota continues to have fewer cases and deaths per 1,000 senior living residents than most other states. Our caregivers know that they are winning battles against COVID-19, and those working in our field deserve our gratitude for their sacrifices and successes.
Never has it been more true that those who work in senior living do so with an altruistic heart and love for the residents they serve. This is their calling, and those working in our field deserve the same praise that other health workers receive.
This journey is not over, and our dedicated staff will continue to carry these burdens and make sacrifices. We hope that members of the media, our legislators, families, and neighbors will see the love of our teams, and join us in saying “thank you” for their perseverance, dedication, and love.
Presidents and CEOs of Minnesota senior living communities*:
Bob Dahl, Cassia
Jon Lundberg, Ebenezer
Jim Bettendorf, Vista Prairie Communities
Dan Lindh, Presbyterian Homes
Scott Riddle, Walker Methodist
Barbara Klick, Sholom
*Star Tribune limits the number of signatures on letter to the editor submissions. You may not see all the above senior care organization leader signatures in the online or print version of this letter.