Category: Miscellaneous

Preventing deaths that are preventable

In the early days of my career, I remember hearing stories that made me question whether behavioral health was really for me. As mental health and substance abuse professionals, we see and hear a lot.

Ultimately, though, I realized that helping people in their darkest moments comes with a heavy weight but not an unbearable one. Soon, I was getting used to hearing stories that, before, I wouldn’t have fathomed could be true.

“Used to” seems an odd way to put it, but I do not know how else to say it. As therapists, we get used to hearing stories of trauma, used to late-night calls from an individual in crisis, used to advocating for change and then hearing why change didn’t occur. We gladly take on these challenges.

What we don’t get used to is people dying.

Even in 2020, there were things to be thankful for …

The dates may have varied in each senior living community, but the outcome was the same. For us, it was March 12 of last year. The day everything changed.

That was the day the Diakon senior living community of which I am chaplain closed its doors to visitors and most family members to protect our residents from the virus that can cause COVID-19 disease. In an instant, most of my tasks as chaplain fell away.

Supporting colleagues during a stressful time

Workplace stress can be a serious issue—even without a pandemic.

Now, COVID-19 presents additional and unique mental health stressors, particularly for health-care and frontline workers.

But it’s also likely to affect you, either personally or indirectly, no matter your occupation. Disregarding your or a coworker’s stress is an option, but it’s probably not a good one.

So what can you do?

Counseling staff members with Diakon Family Life Services offer suggestions in response to typical questions:

What are warning signs that a coworker may be overly stressed?

1. A notable change in appearance, mood or personality

2. Negativity

3. Being overly sarcastic

4. Missing sessions or meetings

5. Not responding to emails, calls or texts after multiple attempts

6. Irritability

7. Being excessively fatigued

8. Becoming withdrawn and isolated

How can you be helpful and address your concern with a coworker without seeming critical?

Ideally, you may have a relationship with your co-workers or team member that allows a conversation to happen along these lines …

Reducing cyber threats at home

My wife is continually on the lookout for deals on disinfectant sprays and wipes as she works to keep our home free of viruses and bacteria, which today can result in a cold—or a potentially life-threatening illness.

Like many people, she relies on the Internet and email to track down best prices and availability.

Wearing face covers, physically distancing and, in some cases, working remotely have no doubt had an impact on the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The spread of cyber threats, however, continues to rise as workers and their families spend more time at home on home networks that are typically easier to break into. IT departments typically implement many security measures to protect workplace computing environments, but most people do not take these same measures at home or even know where to begin.

To make your home computing environment more secure, here are six security “must-dos” that I use to secure my own home network and make it more difficult for cyber criminals and hackers to attack, in hopes they will look for an easier target.

Virtual racing: Easy, fun and flexible

A few years ago, I began a program of walking and running to help lose weight and improve my health. Eventually, I focused on running, gaining confidence to participate in a few 5K races—that is, 3.1 miles. Next, I tackled half-marathons, which are 13.1 miles.

And I always picked races for organizations whose mission I support and that benefit our local community.

My latest challenge? Virtual racing … which isn’t much of a challenge at all!

Masks – which one will you wear today?

When I was a kid back in the day, masks were a bad thing. In the movies, in the news, masked people meant trouble, unless of course you considered the Lone Ranger, or Zorro, or Batman and Robin—but even then, they were misunderstood and assumed to be lawless until proven otherwise.

Now the law is to wear masks, mostly. I’ve been pondering on the way that masks have flipped to being a good thing. A keep-out-of-trouble thing. A protection for the wearer and for those around them. Both/and.

I am troubled when folks who insist “I am not sick” forget that they can indeed be sick and not know it, and spread virus to others when they forgo their masks. Such a simple thing it is, to wear a mask. Please!

There are so many styles and shapes of masks out there now, a cottage-industry, almost a new form of art. So many choices…

But there are also masks, in this time of COVID-19, that we should not wear. One is the mask of indifference to those around us who may be struggling to put food on the table, or pay their mortgages, or continue to work in dangerous settings to provide care or necessities for the rest of us. We are in this together. No longer what I want or need, but what is best for all.

Another is the mask of ignorance and assumptions. Truth is sometimes difficult to ferret out, but it is each of our jobs in life to discern fact from fiction, hype from help, certainty from “spin.” This COVID climate may make that more difficult, but no less essential. Check facts. Dispel rumors. And if you assume, try to assume the best instead of the worst.

And the third mask that we should not wear is the mask that hides our feelings. In a time of physical distancing, finding ways to connect is even more important. Share your feelings with a loved one or friend. Open your heart to those who are experiencing loss. This is hard; admit it, and we will get through it together.

What mask will you choose, or not choose, to wear today?

—The Rev. Dr. Colleen Kristula                                                                        Chaplain, The Lutheran Home at Topton

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We’re all in this together – and need to stay that way!

With the visitor restrictions, the enhanced safety measures and even the way we interact with one another, all implemented in response to COVID-19 disease, it’s obvious we are in a changed world, especially in terms of senior lifestyle and health care services.

While the many changes may have been unsettling, what I have witnessed in my newer role as vice president of operations for a number of Diakon senior living communities is a staff response I can characterize no other way than incredible.

Diakon staff members have constantly gone above and beyond in their efforts to meet head-on the challenges we face. Although each Diakon senior living community is unique in some ways, the approach to safety for both residents and staff, the ways we clean, disinfect and protect, are consistent across the board.

In addition, our staff members have become very creative in efforts to engage residents through technology. In addition to using FaceTime, Facebook Live, Skype and telemedicine visits, we have encouraged family members to talk with residents on their phones or connect virtually because we understand the importance of making personal connection possible as we work to ensure residents’ physical and mental well-being.

All of which points to a critical message as the regions in which Diakon senior living communities are located transition from “red” to “yellow” and even from “yellow” to “green.” Pent-up energy to be with family members will undoubtedly fuel an increasing desire to see loved ones within our senior living communities. That is absolutely understandable and we welcome these reunions.

At the same time, we need to remind everyone that we cannot let our guard down. Older adults are particularly susceptible to severe cases of COVID-19 disease. That caution pertains not just to residents in personal care, assisted living or nursing care, but also to those who live in independent-living homes and apartments on our campuses, especially in light of reports that indicate the relative ease with which this virus sometimes can be transmitted.

For that reason, even as we begin to plan how to ease visitor restrictions, we need to remain extremely vigilant, adopting new practices and emphasizing the tried-and-true measures with which we all have become familiar:

• Wash your hands frequently

• Wear a mask as appropriate to the occasion, but particularly in public. You are not only protecting yourself, but others as well

• Maintain physical distancing

• Monitor yourself for potential symptoms of the virus

• Try to avoid crowded places, particularly where others are not following safety measures

I recently read of people who object to the phrase “new normal,” because they believe we can soon return to what we considered normal. I certainly hope we can eventually resume the lives we experienced before COVID-19. But I also read an article by an epidemiologist who indicated that, even with a vaccine, this virus—which he hoped would eventually weaken—may be with us a long time.

We want your loved ones also to be with us a long time.

That is why we will continue to underscore the need for caution and vigilance even as we take first steps toward the new senior-living landscape.

Robert Musser serves as senior executive director of Buffalo Valley Lutheran Village, Lewisburg, and is vice president of operations for Diakon Senior Living –Hagerstown, Maryland, and three Diakon campuses in Pennsylvania: Cumberland Crossings, Carlisle; Frey Village, Middletown; and Ohesson, Lewistown.

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More than heroes

It was 4:50 a.m. when the phone rang, waking me from a dream immediately lost. There was a death and the family had requested the chaplain come in to offer a blessing prayer with their loved one.

That is not an unusual request but these are unusual times, and the call was from our red zone—that is, our COVID-19 positive unit. Deep breath. A prayer of thanksgiving for the official “fit-testing” of my new N-95 mask yesterday.

Then a mental review of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) I would need: gown, mask, goggles, gloves. Another prayer to calm my anxiety about a task I have done many times before during six years of ministry here, a task now made entirely new and, to be truthful, more than a bit scary.

Prayer finished, divested of PPE other than the ever-present mask, I stopped to check on the nursing staff and to offer them words of affirmation, because they wake up every morning choosing to set aside apprehensions and don their PPE and work long shifts caring lovingly for residents who have this devastating illness.

As they enter our building, they pass by signs naming them as “heroes.” They are.

Oh, but it is so much more than that one word can possibly encompass! I call them the faithful—faithful to the mission of this skilled nursing home’s stated purpose: “…to demonstrate God’s command to love the neighbor through acts of service.”

They are faithful to the vows of their vocation as nurses. But most of all they are faithful to each resident, one by one, whose lives are precious to them, and in danger of slipping away. Courage mixed with compassion.

It is an awesome calling. It is a fearsome responsibility. I am humbled by their faithfulness, brought to tears by their courage, and so very proud to be in their presence.

Thank you to all of them for all you are, and all you do for the people we serve. 

—The Rev. Dr. Colleen Kristula                                                                        Chaplain, The Lutheran Home at Topton

Communicating despite COVID-19 restrictions

Physical distancing in the time of COVID-19 disease is making alternative means of communication even more important, especially for senior living residents.

At The Lutheran Home at Topton, a Diakon Senior Living Community in Berks County, Pennsylvania, we are now making approximately 80 FaceTime or Skype calls every week.

Those calls can be challenging, however, when a loved one has hearing impairments or a cognitive issue, so here are some tips to try when making a “virtual visit”:

Make the call brief, and expect to do most of the talking yourself. Share with the loved one what you are doing or seeing where you are. Reassure the person that his or her extended family is doing okay.

Remember that sound coming from a computer or mobile device might be more difficult to hear. Be prepared with some homemade signs in large print to say the important stuff: “We love you.” “We miss you.” And “I will visit you as soon as I can.”

Many people with cognitive illness have difficulty grasping the concept of video conferencing. They may see the screen as a photograph or television and not realize they can have a conversation. It may help to have a person sitting near your loved one talk back and forth a few times as a model, so that the loved one can see how it works.

An effective way to answer the question “Why aren’t you visiting me?” is by connecting to a long-ago memory. Many older folks can recall the time when measles or polio was in full swing. “Remember when you had the measles and everyone had to stay in the house and no one could visit? Right now there’s a virus going around, and we all have to stay in our houses and are not allowed to visit.”

When in doubt, mention governmental guidelines. Adults from the Greatest Generation respect and honor our national leaders. “Right now, the president, the governor and other leaders say we all have to stay put right where we are. When they say it’s okay to visit, then we will come to see you in person. For now, we can only see each other this way.”

Above all, stay positive and upbeat. As Debra Gogno, the executive director of The Lutheran Home at Topton, frequently reminds us: “Every storm runs out of rain eventually.”

—The Rev. Dr. Colleen G. Kristula
Chaplain, The Lutheran Home at Topton

Insights on fad diets

From keto to gluten-free to vegan and more, fad diet options abound. But are these eating plans a healthy choice for older adults?

And the question has become especially important, as more people eat in and cook at home as they shelter-in-place related to the current pandemic from the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Two registered dietitians with Morrison Community Living, Diakon’s culinary services partner, Samantha Griffith, RD, LDN, the nutrition care manager at Ohesson in Lewistown, Pennsylvania, and Connor Forlini, MS, RDN, LDN, nutrition care manager at Cumberland Crossings near Carlisle, Pennsylvania, provide insights. As in most cases, if you have specific questions about your own diet, please consult your health-care professional.

One common theme among many fad diets is that something must be eliminated for the diet to be successful: cut carbs or eliminate wheat or eat virtually no fats.

“That’s the first red flag,” says Griffith. “As dietitians, we promote the idea that everything is okay in moderation. People don’t like to hear that, though. They think it’s easier to cut just one thing and magically lose weight.”

Take the ketogenic, or “keto,” diet, for example. According to Griffith, the diet calls for reducing carbs so drastically that you are tricking your body into starvation mode and producing ketones from fat to create energy.

“The problem is that it’s awful for your metabolism; you start to feel fatigued and it’s just not sustainable for the long-term,” she says.

Or the gluten-free diet. Unless you have celiac disease, Griffith says, there’s no advantage to cutting out gluten.

“Gluten is a protein in wheat, rye and barley with no caloric value,” she says. “If you can’t tolerate it, gluten can create serious digestive issues. But a lot of people follow the diet and cut out grains. If you do that, you cut out an important source of B vitamins, fiber and other nutrients. Grains also often are fortified with iron, which a lot of older adults struggle to get enough of. Getting iron from dietary sources, including fortified grains, helps you avoid taking iron pills.”

Griffith’s advice is to instead modify your diet to reduce your carbs overall, but not completely. Not all carbs are bad.

Forlini adds that carbs are often misunderstood. Older adults may just need more education on them, he says.

“Your doctor may tell you to limit your carb intake,” he says. “That really means empty carbs, like sugar. And it doesn’t mean you can’t ever have a sweet dessert. Just have a smaller piece,” although that advice may vary for people with diabetes, who should follow physician recommendations on carb-intake.

Because many older adults deal with health issues such as heart disease and high blood pressure, Forlini notes that culinary services at Diakon vary menus, with less red meat and meatless options. Most foods are prepared in-house from scratch, he explains, and use low-sodium products or are made only with naturally occurring salt and no added sodium.

“We learn about residents’ diet history, their medical history, what foods and drinks they like,” he says. “We don’t tell them they can’t have this or that food. We always offer alternatives.”

Griffith and Forlini agree that fad diets aren’t the answer if you’re trying to eat healthier. Here are five suggestions they make for greater success:

Forget the word “diet.” Think lifestyle changes, Griffith says. “You are changing habits versus cutting things out.”

Make small changes, gradually. You are more likely to stick with the diet than if you overhaul your entire way of eating all at once.

Don’t cut out complete food groups. If you’ve read that fruits are high in sugar, that doesn’t mean you stop eating them altogether. “Many fruits are good sources of minerals, fiber and anti-oxidants,” Forlini says.

Have pizza or a slice of your friend’s birthday cake—just don’t do it every day and pay attention to the carb count if you are diabetic. Good nutrition is not made or broken in one day, Griffith says. “I call those kinds of food good for the soul; we all need those.”

Think of the foods you eat as helping you fight disease. “The American health-care system is more reactive, treating people after they get sick,” Forlini says. “Dietitians and nutritionists are “pro-active,” using food to prevent or reduce the disease state.”

If you’re looking for a tried-and-true approach to healthy eating, Griffith and Forlini recommend the Mediterranean food plan. It focuses on eating smaller portions of meat, more seafood, plenty of vegetables, healthy fats and whole grains.