by Jeff Dillon
“Making the elderly happy, that’s what counts.”
That quote from St Jean Jugan, foundress of the Little Sisters of the Poor, is of paramount importance at the Sacred Heart Home and Hospital at Brockville in Dunedin during the current Covid-19 pandemic.
The facility went into a voluntary lockdown on March 22, a few days before the national lockdown was declared. Just prior to that, management had required that only one visitor at a time from a resident’s family could visit. Also, anyone coming into reception had to answer a series of questions, and were admitted only if their answers were deemed satisfactory.
The move to a full lockdown meant adapting to many changes, with the emphasis on providing the social, psychological and morale support to the residents, many of whom are frail and in their nineties.
One of the big changes has been the cessation of daily Mass. The last Mass was celebrated in St Joseph’s chapel on the site on March 20. To compensate for that, YouTube presentations of daily Mass have been projected so that residents can watch in their respective areas.
A rosary is said each day in the chapel with a small group of five residents observing social distancing. This is part of the global effort to ask a million families to say a daily rosary, praying for the intercession of Our Lady for a rapid end to this pandemic.
Sr Rita Mary Nedunthally, LSP, noted that the spiritual needs of the seven Little Sisters at Brockville were largely catered for by their “Rule of Life”, but they certainly miss the daily Mass and Holy Communion and fortnightly confession. However, “the prolonged fast has deepened our appreciation of the sacraments and our longing for their return”, she said. As a consolation, each evening there is an hour of adoration with exposition of the Blessed Sacrament.
Another common feature of the sisters’ routine has ceased at the moment. It was normal for two of the sisters to be seen sitting near the entrance to a supermarket and to be accepting donations to the home. That would happen at different Dunedin supermarkets four or five times a month. The generous assistance often given has ceased at the moment.
The facility provides care for 24 residents in the rest home and 28 in the hospital section. Care is provided with a roster involving 11 registered nurses, 27 carers and 23 auxilary staff.
With restrictions imposed by the lockdown, some of the usual outside services have not been permitted to come in. So that has meant the Little Sisters visiting residents and providing personal care such as haircuts. Access to residents’ families can be met through modern technology such as smartphones, skype, and the like, or even just a normal phone call.
It was recognised that maintaining the morale of residents was of prime importance in the lockdown. This has been aided by an increased focus on art and craft activities. For example, special little Easter bunny baskets cut from paper and painted had several small chocolate eggs put in them before they were put on all the breakfast trays. That was a great success.
Another effort saw heart-shaped items produced in various colours and attached to two of the large windows looking out over Dunedin. One of those windows is festooned with the different coloured heart shapes to make a rainbow, while the other window contains the simple message of “Have Hope”, surrounded by red cut-out heart shapes.
Much endeavour went into the production of poppies for Anzac Day. Other activities include exercise classes, quizzes and the highly popular bingo sessions.
The rest home and hospital have been fortunate that there have been no deaths among the residents during this lockdown, so they have not had to deal with the distress of families being unable to attend a dying family member.