For the past three weeks, motorists and pedestrians on one of shutdown Minneapolis’ busiest streets have gotten a reminder of those the COVID-19 pandemic impacts most, not to mention a shot of hope amidst the gloom and isolation.
“Angels Work Here,” reads the giant sign on the lawn outside Mount Olivet Home on 56th and S. Lyndale Avenue, where the corner itself suggests a microcosm of the communal pull-together that’s happening all over the world.
“It’s a really challenging time for our staff with all the uncertainties of everything going on with the COVID-19, and so we’re just really trying to keep morale up,” said Tom Litecky, director of community relations at Mount Olivet. “Our HR department was able to find the time to put up the ‘Angels Work Here’ sign, and we have banners throughout the building that read ‘Mount Olivet Staff You Are Heroes.’
“This is a tough time for everybody, but in the midst of the difficulties everyone is dealing with, there are some people who are really doing some really good work that needs to be recognized. That’s part of the culture among all of us here. Our number-one priority is making sure that our residents are well taken care of, but in order for us to be successful in doing that, we also have to make sure that the staff know how valued and important they are, because ultimately they’re the ones who are going to ensure that our residents are getting the care that they deserve.
“Even if we didn’t have the coronavirus pandemic happening right now, we want our staff to know that they’re valued here. So putting that sign out there just kind of reinforces what our message has been to them all along.”
Mount Olivet is one of several senior living facilities in the state that have confirmed COVID-19 cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Seniors are most susceptible to the coronavirus, with the average age of the 200 Minnesotans who have died from the disease being 87. Nearly one in five confirmed cases statewide have come from exposure in congregate living centers.
“We have a coronavirus hotline, and because that is public, I can tell you that we do have COVID-19 cases in the building,” said Litecky. “We have that hotline that families can call and get all the updates on what’s happening. We’ve been very transparent with the public, and family members as well.”
The risk for the “angels” and their families is great. Horror stories are emerging across the country, about nursing homes with multiple deaths due to COVID-19. One nursing home worker in New Jersey referred to the plight of going to work as ‘lambs led to slaughter.’
Other homes nationwide have seen workers walking out and protesting, demanding safer working conditions.
Which is why neighbors and workers have filled the sidewalk outside Mount Olivet with chalked messages of support. Across the street, the marquee of the F45 fitness club reads on one side, “Distance Is Temporary Community Is Forever,” and “Thank You MT Olivet Staff You Are Heroes” on the other.
“We were really excited to see that,” said Litecky. “Totally unsolicited; I just walked out one day and I was like, ‘Oh, how nice of them to do that for us.’ All these things we’re doing are just things to try to keep positive. We have chalk out in front of the building; we’ve had families who have come by and written notes for our staff as they come into the building, ‘Hang in there,’ ‘Thank you for all you’re doing,’ ‘Thank you for taking care of my grandpa,’ and those kinds of things.”
Near the end of his Thursday press conference, Gov. Tim Walz lauded essential workers, saying, “There are some people, they had not only no choice, they ran to the danger. They are the front-line workers that have been there, whether treating people at the point of health care delivery, whether at the grocery store clerking for a month or more now, in a time of pandemic, all of those people cleaning buildings and all of those front-line essential workers, as I’ve said so many times before, in our society it might’ve been easy to not see them because they’ve been invisible, or they work at night and we didn’t see them; I think right now we know where the importance lies.”
Count the Mount Olivet workers in that group. For the rest of us, the “Angels Work Here” sign is an opportunity to honk and holler for their courage.
“I think everyone comes into work on their shift with some concern, but we’ve been doing this now for a while,” said Litecky. “Everyone knows coming into the building that you put on your face mask, you put on your face shield, and you’re going to get your temperature taken. And then you get to work. We have had very few staff who have opted to resign or quit because of this, which has been really a strong testament to the staff that we have working here.
“We’re supporting each other, and I think [when visitors come through the door], people are concerned but they also know that as a facility we’ve put [procedures] into place, and all the means necessary to keep them safe. So we have the personal protective equipment, we’re constantly reminding people to wash hands, and we’re doing hand washing audits, where we actually watch staff members do their hand washing to make sure they’re doing it correctly.
“We spend a lot of time on education, and then we’re just being very transparent with the information that our staff needs in order to stay safe, and I think right now it seems to be working for us. We’ve got a few COVID-19 cases in the building, but nothing to the extreme that some of the other care centers are dealing with.
“Our staff, they really feel proud of what they’re doing here. And I think the sign really has helped them recognize it. You know, it’s a tough job, but they’re doing a great job, and our staff feel very committed, they feel like these residents that we take care of here on this campus are part of their family.
“Two weeks ago there was a news story that came out about, I think it was a nursing home in California, where most of the staff just didn’t come in. So many of them quit, they had to relocate the residents, and our staff here saw that and the response was, ‘How can they do that to their people?’ ‘How can they do that to their family?’ That’s the culture that we have here.
“What we’re doing here right now at this time is really pretty special. We’ve been getting lots of ‘Thank You’ notes and families have been donating money, saying, ‘We know you can’t do anything yet, but when we’re all through this please take our donation and have a big party and please order pizzas to be brought in to feed your staff,’ those kinds of things. So it’s been really good and it’s something that we’ve really, really needed.”