Reviving the Ministry of Care after a pandemic of loneliness

If anyone needs proof that a weekly, hourly visit from a friendly volunteer makes a big difference in the lives of others, the effect of the pandemic on homebound ministries to seniors is proof of that.

Before COVID-19, whether due to illness, the effects of aging, weakness, or other factors, seniors who had to stay at home often relied on visits from fellow parishioners to provide support. fellowship, the Eucharist, news from the religious community or just a pleasant conversation.

If present, caregivers could take a brief break during visits, go to another room to calm down, or take a short run or two without worrying. If the family lived far away, they could be assured that a local and friendly person would register with their loved one.

But with the closures, the tours, the respite and the peace of mind abruptly ceased and many suffered because of it.

Melissa Kelley, program coordinator for the Catholic Charities Care Team Ministry in Madison, Wisconsin, says, “During the lockdown, the first thing we did was ask the 20 care teams to completely stop themselves. return and move on to phone calls and sending greeting cards. ”

The move “helped a bit,” Kelley says. But it was hard for the volunteers, who “went through a lot of guilt” because they couldn’t personally visit.

Additionally, while those confined may still have contact with volunteers, some of them did not benefit as much as they did with personal visits. For example, phone calls were difficult for the hearing impaired, and people with dementia lacked the familiarity of seeing and hearing someone.

Another challenge was that, during the pandemic, the number of people living alone at home increased.

“I got a phone call from one of the geriatric social workers at the big hospitals,” Kelley says. “She said the old people were being kicked out and going back to an empty house.”

Kelley started a “phone buddies” project, sending out an “open invitation to all of our current volunteers” to add people to their “visitors” list and asking if others wanted to join. Many did.

Now, as the parishes reopen, Kelley is making the transition from the program of telephone visits to in-person visits.

It will be a challenge, says Kelley, “We have had so many deaths among our volunteers, who are older, and some of our care partners who are older.

Kelley notes, “Most churches and volunteer ministries need to be rebuilt and invigorated,” and the need within the community “is going to be enormous. We experienced a pandemic of loneliness before the pandemic. “

Fortunately, the ministry of care coordinated by Kelley has a clear foundation and a mission to build on. Kelley says, “We call it ‘enduring presence ministry.’ We are not here to solve financial problems or family dynamics. “

Volunteers go through a criminal background check and must prove that they have a valid driver’s license and insurance. They also participate in training and regular team meetings.

“We are learning to listen actively, to the limits of care, to the fact that these are non-medical and non-medical visits,” Kelley explains. “Confidentiality is huge, it manages an emergency and limits.”

Those who receive visits and their caregivers agree on a plan of care with the ministry. Regular evaluations are made with the volunteers and the elderly person visited.

“We want the elders in the ward to have a say,” says Kelley, “to feel their views are heard.”

Recently, the Catholic Health Association of the United States collaborated with Catholic Charities USA and the Community of Sant’Egidio on several webinars on topics related to aging, faith and our response (available free online at www / events / calendar of events / seniors-webinar-series / overview).

As the discussion with and about the elderly among us increases, and the needs emerge, may a collective ministry of sustained presence grow too!

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Alan Adams

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