By Sarah Lessing
The COVID-19 crisis has hit all communities on different levels, impacting health, employment and social needs. The scene for our senior citizens was particularly devastated by the virus and left many of our elderly neighbors in a state of loneliness and vulnerability. The Towers at Tower Lane was able to answer in a quick and caring manner with the help of the COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund. Jennifer Bayer, Development/Community Relations Director at the Towers, tells us how they were able to care for their residents during the pandemic.
“Our seniors have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19 because of their age and the congregate housing setting, so we had to take early action,” Bayer explains. The two buildings offer both affordable housing for those in need and regular priced apartments for over 320 seniors with an average age of 86. Given the large number of residents, appropriate and quick action was a necessity. The COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund was able to provide sustainable support to allow The Towers at Tower Lane residents to live in a safe environment that would not only protect their physical health and well-being, but also their mental health and social needs. The program focuses on allocating emergency grants and direct assistance to communities, families and individuals in need through Jewish organizations and local rabbis who help facilitate the support. As of June 7, this fund had given $186,600 in emergency grants, which were distributed to multiple organizations such as the Jewish Family Service of Greater New Haven, Temple Emanuel of Greater New Haven, Chabad Houses and the Joseph Slifka Center for Jewish Life at Yale.
At the Towers, the program ensured that all residents received three meals a day regardless of their ability to pay. Getting groceries involves public transportation, time, carrying items or grocery shopping online, which implied huge risks for this specific demographic.
“We immediately began delivering three meals a day with disposable items at the front door for every resident,” Bayer reports. All meals were prepared and cooked in their in-house kitchen. They also took charge of delivering items. And that meant adding more work on the staff members to ensure the residents were living in a safe environment.
“We went from 200 meals a day to almost 1,000 meals a day depending on the day. We really believed it was how we could protect lives,” Bayer proudly states. As a result of this proactive strategy, there were only a few cases of COVID-19 in the building.
The board was also able to purchase personal protective equipment, including masks, hand sanitizer and gloves for residents, staff and everybody entering the building thanks to the COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund as well as funds from Yale University. About 1,500 masks were provided to them through Masks for Connecticut, a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater New Haven. Their delivery for personal protective equipment was delayed so the Jewish Federation offered them these masks; it was a huge help, Bayer gratefully says.
Physical health was the priority. Additional support was also needed to reduce the effects of the isolation the residents were facing. Seniors citizens are particularly vulnerable to loneliness and depression due to social isolation, and the health crisis impacted them tremendously.
“Being a resident in a one-bedroom apartment presents its own unique challenges,” Bayer points out. They decided to broadcast special programs on TV with classes and Shabbat services; the interactive element was missing for the residents to communicate with each other. “We applied to the COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund for 40 iPads and we received the funds,” the Community Relations Director tells with excitement. “We have very user-friendly card games they can play with each other, they can speak with family members, do Facetime,” Bayer mentions. The Towers at Tower Lane will be receiving the iPads in a few weeks. They will be used if there is a resurgence of the virus or a particular hard winter; it will be a way to connect people and make them less isolated.
The global pandemic was, and still is, a big change in our everyday lives, but The Towers at Tower Lane managed to face its challenges with the support of the Jewish Federation.
“The COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund helped us in an unprecedented way; no other organization or grant organization helped us through three components with meals, personal protective equipment and technology to keep our residents social,” says Bayer.
These difficult times highlight what it means to be a community. It is through selflessness such as those who have donated to the COVID-19 / Maimonides Response Fund that we are able to ensure the most vulnerable in our community are taken care of.