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Pictured above: Marlene Makowski (left) and Sister Marie Henault, pm, at St. Joseph Residence in Manchester. (Photo by Grace Wise)

‘True Soldiers’ of Health Care

By Gary Bouchard

“Every day is a new day.” This is the resolve that Marlene Makowski, LNHA, MBA, brings to her work as administrator of St. Joseph Residence in Manchester. Marlene has served in various roles at Catholic Charities New Hampshire’s nursing facilities since 1990. She has been an administrator since 2003 and the American College of Health Care Administrators honored her three times with the Eli Pick Facility Leadership Award (2013, 2015, 2019). It is from this vast experience that Marlene draws in navigating senior health care during the Covid pandemic during the last 22 months. Despite the difficulties that she and other health care workers face, she ultimately describes it as “a time of awe, in the truest sense of that word.”

Marlene’s perspective is shaped by what she has seen as the administrator at St. Joseph’s, which provides health care for the Sisters of the Presentation of Mary (pm), and by her role as Life Enrichment Manager for St. Joseph Residence and the six other Catholic Charities NH’s senior care facilities. Using Zoom and weekly journaling, she keeps in close contact with those responsible for life enrichment activities at each residence. “There’s no question that we have all been challenged like never before,” she says, adding “you have to re-arrange everything you’ve been doing, everything you know just to keep people safe.”

Marlene says she focuses on “making sure every person is engaged to the best of their ability in their daily life. Since the outbreak of Covid especially, we ask ourselves, ‘What are we doing to make sure that every person, including each member of the staff, is being taken care of every day? This is what Jesus has asked us to do.’”

Sustaining a sense of community amid periods of isolation has been a particular priority for Marlene and her colleagues. “You have to get creative. We’ve conducted activities by holding a microphone in the hallway with people seated in their doorways. People joke about playing Bingo, but what these activities are really about, at this time, is camaraderie. For a long time, the people in the dietary department could not serve others in the dining room,” she says. “Much of the meals are individually wrapped and passed out on trays. For well over a year, we did not have Mass every day. This was really devastating… but (it) also puts things in perspective for you. What’s important? What matters? Are the residents healthy and happy?”

Most recently, Marlene and her fellow administrators struggle to cope with the wide-spread labor shortage. “It’s been hard, and many people have left. Like everywhere else,” she says, “we are short-staffed in nearly every department. People are having to work so many extra shifts.” Acknowledging the collective toll this has taken on staff, Marlene says she is also struck by what people are willing to do. “Those who have stayed are the true soldiers. They really are prayer in action. I mean, at all the CCNH facilities, we have administrators pitching in to sweep the floors, do dishes and make beds. A variety of employees punch out at 3 p.m., and then go into the kitchen and work for a while. It’s amazing!”

One inspiring moment stands out for Marlene from early in the pandemic. It was shift change when St. Joseph’s staff learned of its first Covid case. One person would be responsible for taking care of residents who tested positive. Instead, Marlene recalls, “They circled together, bumped their fists together, and said, ‘All for one and one for all!’ and all (of them) masked and gowned and went to offer care together. You really have to see what goes on at these places. It’s daunting, amazing and heartwarming. I’m certain that because of the pandemic we are better connected as employees and as residents than ever before.”

Looking ahead, Marlene observes, “Our new normal is ever changing. We know there will continue … to be times of quarantine and isolation…. But I think we are learning…I also think if people listen to the elderly, they will learn because the elderly have lived through and seen so much and have wisdom to share that can help us navigate through this present crisis.”

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