FALL RIVER, Mass. — Amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, one of the hardest hit groups have been the elderly, due to their susceptibility to the virus, and the health care workers who are dedicated to keeping them safe and healthy.

In an effort to thank these diligent workers, Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V., recorded a brief video message of encouragement that was sent out last week to the staff of the nursing homes and health care facilities under the umbrella of the Diocesan Health Facilities Office.

“I wanted to take this opportunity to reach out to all the administrators, directors, doctors, nurses, clinicians, therapists, and all the support staff of our Catholic nursing homes,” Bishop da Cunha said in his introductory remarks. “I want you to know that I pray for you every single day. These are very challenging, difficult times for all of us, but it’s especially (difficult) for the elderly population who are the most at risk and the most vulnerable of our people and also for all those who are in the health care profession, because you are putting yourselves in a vulnerable situation by helping those who are in need and those who are sick.”

The bishop went on to express how important faith is during this crisis and, more importantly, “how important you are in their lives.” 

“You’re not only there to alleviate their pain and suffering, but you are there to show love, to show respect, to show that they are important, and they have dignity,” the bishop said. “And I know that they recognize that they respect you, they love you. They know that they can count on you, they count on your experience and your expertise to help them.”

In closing, the bishop expressed his heartfelt thanks for all the work they are doing — all while often risking their own health and being kept away from their own families for extended periods of time.

“Please know that we are all grateful for all that you do, and that God will continue guiding us and supporting us and strengthening us through these difficult times,” he said. “This storm will pass, and we will be restored to normalcy. I ask God’s blessing upon you and your families. So please, stay safe and God bless all of you.”

According to Joanne Roque, CEO of the Diocesan Health Facilities Office, the workers were all very appreciative and inspired by the bishop’s words.

“Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, our nursing facilities have worked tirelessly to protect our nursing home residents, and work diligently to mitigate the spread of this devastating virus,” Roque told The Anchor. “We continue to follow the ever-changing guidance provided by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, local public health, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS).”

Roque said she is proud and thankful for the staff working in the Catholic nursing facilities throughout the diocese.

“Our staff are caring and compassionate and currently are the only contact that our residents have to the outside world,” she said. “The staff also focuses their efforts on keeping the residents in contact with their families through FaceTime and other avenues.”

For Jo-Ann Melchert, administrator at Our Lady’s Haven in Fairhaven, the bishop’s video was inspirational, supportive and well-timed.

“I am grateful to the bishop for recognizing the hard work facing the staff at this time,” Melchert told The Anchor. “We embrace our mission every day. It is our goal to provide a safe haven and to provide our residents with compassion and love. The demands and long hours can be grueling, so his message came at a good time.”

Noting how difficult it has been for some of the residents, Melchert said they are continuing to abide by the social distancing recommendations and have been trying to be more creative in offering different activities.

“Our residents miss Mass, but Sister Eileen does recite the Rosary every morning, which is televised in the residents’ rooms,” she said. “Also, this week we are delivering balloons with inspirational messages from the families and we are posting the balloon delivery on our Facebook page. The residents miss their families and friends, so we use FaceTime and Skype as well as email and letters to keep everyone connected.”

Melchert said they have also been recognizing staff members’ dedication in-house with weekly meals for all three shifts, along with other goodies and much-needed caffeine.

“The message from the bishop was uplifting and comforting during these difficult times,” agreed Jessica Costa, administrator of Marian Manor in Taunton. “It’s always nice to know that people are thinking of you, and praying for us all. I think our staff is motivated more and more every day knowing that they have the support of so many. They want to do what is best for our residents.”

While she said her staff is “hanging in there,” Costa said the most difficult part has been the restrictions on family visitations.

“This is a very trying time for them all,” she said. “They are worried about our residents and their families, but so many feel that this is part of the healthcare field, so they are committed and will do whatever is needed of them to get through these difficult times.

“As you know, we were directed by CMS and DPH about a month ago to restrict visitation of families and friends. We were all very concerned about our residents’ psycho-social needs, with the limited contact with their loved ones. However, we have implemented various ways for them to communicate with their loved ones via Facebook, Skype, etc. In addition, the focus of all staff at the facility has been on nursing and recreational services, to ensure that their needs are being meet, both clinically and socially. The times are not easy, but we are all doing the best we can.”

Jessica Davis, administrator at the Sacred Heart Home in New Bedford, said the bishop’s simple words of appreciation and encouragement and the outpouring of support for her staff has been very helpful.

“This positive recognition helps highlight the wonderful care we give every day and helps our staff know how critical their care is to our residents, their families and the community,” Davis told The Anchor. “Our mission of quality care in a Spiritual environment is more important than ever to protect our very vulnerable residents, and any recognition of that helps keep our employees energized for the task at hand.”

Davis said most of the residents at the home have “remained in good spirits and are taking the situation day by day.”

“The staff is focusing any extra time on one-to-one visits with the residents and are very grateful for technology like FaceTime and Skype to keep families close while visitors are restricted,” she said. “Our families have been very supportive and understanding, and we look forward to the day when we can accept visitors again, as they are very much missed by all of us.”

“It was very touching to hear Bishop da Cunha speak directly to those of us who work for the diocese, especially during these uncertain times,” added Joan Jakuboski, R.N., B.S.N., director of the EldersFirst Care Management Program in Fall River.

Unlike other diocesan health facilities, her staff travels to clients in their homes and she noted “they are especially happy to see us during this time of isolation.”

“The nurses are working every day to serve the needs of our geriatric clients,” Jakuboski said. “Our time spent with them is essential, not only providing them with nursing care and monitoring their health, but also by offering them emotional support and comfort. We carry this out with extensive safety precautions to make certain that we keep this most vulnerable population healthy.

“Since we are in the middle of Holy Week, but unable to worship as we all have in the past, it was a great comfort to know that the bishop is thinking of us and our families and offering us peace of mind and renewed hope during this Easter season.”