Many CJFS services have been modified due to COVID-19. For current information contact us at jfs@cjfsbham.org or 205.879.3438

"We're All in Masks, But I Can Still See Their Eyes Light Up!"

For Shannon Atchenson, Service Coordinator at Episcopal Place, Monday was a big day – the day that CJFS’ five Personal Care Attendants resumed in-person services at Episcopal Place and other federally subsidized senior housing facilities. The Personal Care program, which provides services that enable low- and moderate-income older adults to continue living independently, had been suspended since mid-March due to COVID-19. And, although CJFS staff members have continued to telephone their clients regularly and help them access food and medication, the in-person services were sorely missed. “Our residents are so dependent on that service, and I had been seeing mental and emotional decline without that weekly contact,” Shannon said. “And even though it’s only been two days since they came back, I’m already seeing smiles,” she said Tuesday afternoon. “Well, you can’t see the smiles because we’re all in masks, but I can see their eyes light up. They’ll say, ‘My Vickie is back,’ or ‘Schadell was here.’ “

The Personal Care Attendants provide essential in-home services for older adults who, because of physical or health limitations, are not able to manage household tasks without the risk of falls, said CJFS Clinical Director Marcy Morgenbesser, LICSW. “When an older adult falls, this can cause serious injury, leading to hospitalization, nursing home placement and untimely death.  And, when household tasks are not addressed, an older adult can face eviction from their housing community,” she added.  “It is easy to forget that it takes strength, balance, stamina and flexibility to safely take care of essential household tasks such as mopping the floor, cleaning the bathroom, carrying laundry and changing bedlinens.”

During “normal” times, a typical Personal Care client would receive two hours per week of services. This might have included assisting with housekeeping, personal grooming, meal preparation or a combination of those -- all while “visiting” with the client, building caring relationships and reducing isolation and loneliness.

Now, as the attendants return to their clients’ homes, they are scheduling only one client each day. This allows more time to help clients clean and organize their homes – and for the attendant to truly see how the client is doing after weeks of only checking in by phone. A key component of the program is the personal bond that grows between the attendants and their clients. “Our clients trust and confide in their Personal Care Attendants, and the attendants often are the ones who first notice that an older adult is having health problems or financial issues. When these problems are reported back to the rest of our team, we can respond with additional resources,” said CJFS Personal Care Program Manager LaBrena Friend, LMSW.

When Personal Care Attendant Angela Gaines began returning to clients’ homes this week, she felt a sense of relief. “I realize how close I am to my clients and how, when we’re separated, it’s difficult, not only for them but for me. Working from home, I worried about what they needed that I couldn’t do, and it was stressful.” Now, the attendants and their clients wear protective masks throughout their visits, and they avoid being in the same room together. “Not being able to see a smile or give a hug as I normally do feels strange,” she said. “But for safety purposes, I totally understand it.”

The CJFS Personal Care program provided 4,778 hours of services in 2019 to 79 clients for an average hourly fee of $3.93. The program, designed to help vulnerable seniors avoid premature nursing home placement, would not be possible without the support of CJFS’ generous donors and grant funders. Funders for 2020 include the Lucille Beeson Trust of Canterbury UMC, Housing Affordability Trust., IPC Foundation, Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and Robert Meyer Foundation.