THE LONG HAUL
By ANDREW MCGINN
They got three gallons of gas per week, and 12 ounces of sugar.
One pair of shoes needed to last an entire year, and bacon grease was collected and donated to be turned into explosives.
Anything to shorten the suffering.
One iconic poster from World War II featuring a smiling GI, his tin cup of java lifted in appreciation, carried the words, “Do with less so they’ll have enough!”
Anything to shorten the suffering.
Rowena Morgan was 18 when that poster was produced in 1943.
At 95, the Greene County native has spent the past two months reading, sewing and watching the traffic on Grimmell Road as it passes by her apartment window at The Gardens.
She hasn’t left home since March, when COVID-19 mounted an invisible invasion of the U.S.
She’s content to do what’s necessary.
“In the Depression,” Morgan explained via phone, “we did get out and go, but not nearly like people do now. There’s a lot of people who find it difficult to accept what’s going on. It’s hard for people to accept this way of going. They don’t like to be told they have to stay at home.”
People, she said, aren’t good at sacrifice.
Local residents of assisted-living communities and nursing homes — places deemed “ground zero for COVID-19” by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services — are once again enduring a global crisis with flying colors.
In fact, there’s a lesson to be learned about morale from the elderly, said Brianne Fister, director of The Gardens, the assisted-living community at Washington Street and Grimmell Road.
Residents there, she said, never once hesitated or reacted negatively to evolving guidelines and limitations that have effectively upended their daily routines.
“The tenants have lived through different pandemics/epidemics in their lifetime, scarlet fever, rheumatic fever, ‘ole timer flu,’ the Depression and war,” Fister said in an email. “In their era, when people were sick, they stayed home.”
Non-medical, in-person visits are off-limits at The Gardens. Visitation restrictions at Regency Park of Jefferson and at Long Term Care of the Greene County Medical Center went into effect the week of March 8.
Two months later, morale is still high, said Ali Meiners, administrator at the 68-bed Regency Park.
“We are all trying to stay positive and remember that this, too, shall pass,” Meiners wrote in a recent email. “We are so appreciative of all of our employees and the creative ways they are working to keep spirits high.”
There have been themed days, like crazy socks day and superhero day. Residents receive in-room deliveries of ice cream and coffee. Art and activity books have been provided, and they’ve even adapted how they play Bingo, according to Meiners. Wild Rose Casino, she said, donated playing cards to all residents.
“Residents seem to be hanging in there,” said Lori Harrah, director at the medical center’s Long Term Care. “The staff are taking this seriously and doing what they can to keep spirits high.”
At Long Term Care, which has 85 beds, staff have increased the number of daily one-on-one visits, Harrah said.
While residents and tenants have accepted the need to lie low, their living spaces and underlying health conditions also make them, in a sense, sitting ducks.
As of Tuesday, there have been 33 outbreaks of COVID-19 among long-term care facilities in Iowa, according to the Iowa Department of Public Health, for a total of 1,148 cases among residents and staff alike.
Heritage Specialty Care in Cedar Rapids emerged almost immediately as a hotspot after more than a dozen residents died between March 24 and April 11. Closer to home, two facilities in Perry — Pearl Valley Rehabilitation and Nursing and the Rowley Memorial Masonic Home — have been grappling with outbreaks of their own.
Since April 19, when new regulations were announced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, nursing homes have been required to inform residents, families and representatives within 12 hours of a single, confirmed infection of COVID-19 in their facilities.
“As a precaution, we ask that staff be very vigilant on and off the clock,” Fister said, adding that staff at The Gardens are screened for symptoms, fever and exposure prior to each shift.
But, she said, there’s also a sense of unity among staff and tenants.
“We are all in this together,” she said.
Fister described the task of restricting visitors as especially difficult.
“I personally called all tenants’ emergency contacts that night and sent out letters,” she said. “This task weighed heavy on my heart, as I know how much it means for our tenants to connect with their loved ones. Families and friends expressed their gratitude. They understood that to protect their elderly loved ones, who are the most vulnerable, it was prudent to restrict non-medical visits.”
Residents and tenants are using phone calls and FaceTime to stay connected, and friends and family have been welcome to visit a loved one through a window.
“It is so heartwarming to see the reactions of both the family members and residents when we can help them connect,” Meiners explained. “You can tell it lifts the spirits of both parties.”
One mother and daughter, Meiners said, celebrated a birthday by eating cupcakes together — on opposite sides of a window.
Morgan, 95, has two daughters locally.
“They come and look in my window, and that’s about it,” she said. “It’s kind of strange, yes.”
Morgan misses getting out and going to stores, and she especially misses visits with fellow quilters. But she concedes she has no control over the situation.
You learn to make do with what you have, according to Morgan, be it a window or a TV, although she’s admittedly “getting kind of tired of the news.”
It’s also a good feeling to be remembered after two months in isolation.
“Today,” Morgan said, “I’m looking at a nice bouquet of flowers that came from a grandson in Cedar Rapids.”