At Ovation Communities, sing-alongs with social distancing

Life has changed inside Ovation Communities, but residents have been rising to the occasion, said Rabbi Steven Adams, director of pastoral care for Ovation Communities. 

Ovation Jewish Home, Ovation Chai Point and Ovation Sarah Chudnow, all in the Milwaukee area, house about 260 residents, mostly elderly. Ovation Sarah Chudnow is slated to change ownership, from Ovation Communities to Marcus Investments, but that’s not expected to be finalized for months.  

Rabbi Steve Adams

Elderly residents at the three locations have lived through wars and other crises, Adams said. They are not children. They’ve lived history before. 

“I sat down and explained,” Adams said, “this whole idea of trying to flatten a curve of an infection.” 

The idea is that if the expected spike in coronavirus cases can be smoothed out to a flatter curve, medical services nationwide are less likely to be severely overwhelmed and can therefore be more helpful. 

Michael Sattell, president and CEO of Ovation Communities, said he worries about their supplies like masks and gowns running out over time, if the crisis worsens and lasts, and Ovation is working to creatively find suppliers. 

Activities have been canceled and residents have been asked to practice social distancing. They can leave their rooms, but there are no activities to draw them out. There are no communal services, no daily minyan anymore. Meals are delivered to rooms. 

One woman spontaneously played piano and the other residents who were around gathered – with social distancing.  

Staff have been leading singalongs floor by floor. “They open their doors and somebody down the hallway leads the song,” Adams said. “They could in a sense participate and be part of a group.” 

“We’re adapting that for kabbalat Shabbat this week,” added Adams, who plans to lead that in the same way, floor by floor.  

“We’ve already been printing up sheets that the residents will keep because we want them to stay in their hands,” Adams said.  

“Our first priority is the physical well-being of everybody, but that has put a strain on the issue of emotional,” Adams saidYet staff is working to come up with ways to keep minds occupied and spirits up. 

“I always say you get lemons you make lemonade, to be very creative,” Adams said. “We are already looking at how we can accommodate people’s need for Passover.” 

Sattell said Ovation is working to serve families. “We have dedicated sons and daughters who come every day, many who do come weekly,” he said. Not anymore. Nonessential visits have been canceled.  

IT professionals have been connecting families with residents, figuring out what the family already has access to and how they can hook up the resident. Ovation Communities has been deploying iPads and televisions equipped with FaceTime, Skype, and so forth, so residents can talk with families or each other, Sattell said.  

Many residents are calling one another to check in, Sattell said. And residents’ vital signs are checked every day. 

The staff has rallied, Sattell said. Most must be present for their work, so a small minority of the 500 full-time and part-time employees are working from home.  

“For people who need more care we’re being as cautious as possible when we need to be more hands on,” Sattell said. Staff is screened every day, their temperature taken and a questionnaire answered. 

I’m very proud of our staff’s response to the seriousness of this pandemic and also very grateful for the residents response of taking it so seriously as well,” Sattell said. 

Adams has been impressed with residents’ reaction to the changes.  

“They know what’s it’s like to be in this kind of a situation,” Adams said.  

“These are the people who lived through a war. They can teach us how to do this in some circumstances.”