Coronavirus in Old-age Homes: ‘We Lived Through the Blitz’

Mental health a primary focus of facilities as prevention steps keep families away; but residents have seen worse

Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet
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The Nofei Yerushaleim assisted living facility, Jerusalem, March 11, 2020.
The Nofei Yerushaleim assisted living facility, Jerusalem, March 11, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Ofer Aderet
Ofer Aderet

Old age homes have switched to an emergency footing and grandkids are not allowed to visit Grandma and Grandpa. So far people are taking it in stride, but some warn that boredom can also kill.

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Pamela Lobel refuses to get worked up over the coronavirus. Though she had to move the Purim celebration with her grandson from her assisted living facility to a nearby coffee shop, she wasn’t about to give up the custom of giving gift packages of sweets. A staff member at her residence took the package from her devoted grandson and put it in her room. That way they adhered to the government instructions that prohibit “outsiders” from entering old- age homes.

“It’s a strange situation and a little surreal, but don’t forget that my generation – and I’m talking about people who are over 75, and there are also some who are over 100, have been through so much in life,” she says, recalling her youth in London during World War II.

“I grew up there in the time of the Blitz,” she says.

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She made aliyah around the time of Israel’s founding and her father later served in the Haganah in Jerusalem when the city was under siege. “We’ve been through a lot of wars,” she says. “We are not stressed out, we are not suffering. The only thing that’s hard is the uncertainty – not knowing how long this will last and what exactly it will look like,” she adds.

Over the last 24 hours, the social worker of the Nofei Yerushalayim senior housing facility has contacted the families of all the residents to inform them of the ban on visiting. “Aside from that, daily life continues more or less as usual,” says Lobel.

On Wednesday, for instance, she attended a Purim costume party organized by the staff. And the usual small groups of residents still gather in the lobby to talk about the affairs of the day. “Of course, the main topic is the coronavirus,” she admits. Disinfectants have also been made available at the entrance to the building and the residents were given instructions about hygiene.

“There is an understanding that the longer this situation continues, the more complex it will become,” says Avigail Duke, director of Nofei Yerushalayim. “We’re concerned about the residents’ physical well-being, to ensure that they aren’t exposed to the coronavirus, but also about their mental health – that they won’t be afflicted with loneliness,” she elaborates. “It’s possible to die from both, so we have a serious challenge ahead of us.”

Asher Kleingold, who was born in 1930 in England, also had to meet his relatives outside the facility. “No visitors are allowed, not even family,” he says outside the door to the building, where the meeting place was moved. “So far I haven’t seen anyone in the building show signs of panic, and I’ve seen that sort of thing in the past,” he says.

Asher Kleingold in the Nofei Yerushaleim assisted living facility, Jerusalem, March 11, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

Yair Efrati, director of the WIZO assisted living facility on David Hamelech Boulevard in Tel Aviv, describes the last days as “an emergency situation.” He says his building’s residents, who range in age from 75-105, are at very high risk of getting sick and of complications.

Some activities have been canceled, such as choir and communal singing, but for now lectures and other activities are continuing. “But the speakers and instructors are careful not to get too close to the residents,” Efrati says.

He holds daily talks with the residents and staff to update them on the new instructions. “The residents are accepting the situation with full understanding,” he says, “because they realize that something like this could lead to disaster.”

He says that “thanks to our explanations, we’re avoiding confusion and lack of knowledge,” so he isn’t seeing tension among the residents. “We’re hoping for better days,” he adds.

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