Are You Essential?

Another month has passed, and it feels simultaneously like everything has changed and nothing at all. In the senior living world, we’ve received new guidelines to follow and are in the process of dissecting a complex, verbose, somewhat disheartening 41-page Executive Directive. It outlines what each stage of our phased-in approach to reopening will look like, as well as what parameters must be met in order to advance. At first glance, I was thrilled to see that indoor visits would again be permitted; as nice as the outdoor ones have been, they’re completely dependent on weather and it’s so hard for residents to hear their loved ones from 6ft apart and with all the background noise. As I read on, though, my excitement faded.

Indoor visits are to be limited to “essential caregivers”. In other words, there are very specific people who will be able to enter the community (and for very specific reasons). Each resident can have up to two adult ECs total, regardless of how big their family is. In order to be considered, one must apply and explain why they feel they are essential. Once accepted, they can visit up to twice a week for two hours per visit. Of course, they’ll have to be pre-scheduled, screened, COVID negative, and in full PPE.

So, what does it take to be considered essential? According to our governing body, an EC is someone who was “previously actively engaged with the resident or committed to providing assistance with activities of daily living”. Some examples provided by the DOH include a family member who visits twice a week to assist a resident with a shower, an individual who visits weekly to fill the resident’s pill box, and the like. Oh, you know, just the stuff they moved in with us to get help with in the first place. The things their family could no longer manage, hence them ending up in assisted living. Makes sense.

ECs can’t come just to hang, either; there must be an essential reason for the visit, which is forbidden from being social in nature. They have to be providing assistance with a task that they helped with prior to COVID, like cleaning hearing aids or shampooing the carpet. Changing sheets and cleaning out refrigerators count, too. Again, these are actual examples provided by the DOH.

You know what’s essential? Human touch. Hugging your family, including your great grandkids who are under 18 and can’t make the cut. Socializing with your friends is pretty important, too, while we’re at it. Sharing a meal together. Stepping foot outside of the same apartment you’ve been trapped in for 5½ months (without being told to turn around & go back). Having the right to choose which risks you’ll take. Living out the rest of your life with dignity and love, on your own terms. All essential. Not one on the list.

I feel more helpless now than I have this entire pandemic.

Operation Green Sheets


One of my favorite nonnos of all time passed last week. He was hands down the most spirited, loyal, fun-loving resident I’ve had the pleasure of serving, and he adored his wife. No matter the circumstance, he’d support her blindly. They’d dance to any song and, if separated, he was beside himself. During a brief stint in the hospital (for her), he sat in the lobby from morning until night awaiting her return. Literally, he didn’t move (except to yell into my office every hour for an update).

My “boyfriend” was also extremely headstrong, and he and his beautiful wife both lived with dementia. When she had an idea in her head, she’d rile him up and they would fixate on it. Dementia is so f’ing weird – they’d forget that they ate breakfast but despite my prayers and redirection, they’d remember every detail of these delusions. I’m cracking up at the thought and at the memory of them standing in my office, him raising his voice (& sometimes his middle finger) and her egging him on.

One of my favorite stories of Mr. & Mrs. M came to be fondly referred to as “Operation Green Sheets”. One morning, they came to alert me of a probable theft: their daughter-in-law had bought them a set of green sheets, which were now missing. Thankfully, I had a great relationship with their two sons, who were insanely understanding and supportive. I know it’s horrible to say (but I always say it anyway) – I’ve seen a lot of amazing, involved daughters, but those really good, patient, helpful sons.. they’re a dime a dozen (sorry, boys). These two are exceptional. A quick text confirmed there was not, in fact, a green sheets delivery. We laughed it off, reassured them that they were in the laundry, and hoped they’d be forgotten by morning.

To our disappointment, these were the most memorable made-up sheets in the history of fake bedding. A few days passed with constant calls, visits, and middle fingers. I was out of excuses and there was no appeasing them. I sent the boys two shades of green and by the grace of God, they picked the right color – they arrived via Amazon Prime the next morning and when delivered, my loves shouted in unison, “That’s them!”. Crisis averted, and this time without the help of the police (I’ll save that story for another post 😉).

I was only lucky enough to spend a brief time with Mr. M. However, I don’t need to have known him forever to be certain the world will be a duller place without him. I will be always grateful for his lessons, laughs, love, and even middle fingers. May he rest in the sweetest peace. ❤