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For the elderly, protection comes at a cost

For the elderly, protection comes at a cost

COVID-19 Missions and Outreach


Ann Harvey resides at an assisted living facility in Tampa. Like other residents there and at similar facilities throughout Florida, COVID-19 forced her into quarantine since mid-March.

An order Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis prohibits outside visitors from entering these senior centers, along with other measures designed to protect the vulnerable elderly. So, Harvey, who is battling cancer, takes pleasure in other things – like a trip to the nearby Moffitt Cancer Center for chemotherapy.

"It's good to get out," she said with a laugh. "But when I come back, I'm quarantined in my room for 48 hours."

Ann Harvey

The protective measures are necessary because of the approximately 6,100 deaths in Florida related to COVID-19, more than 2,700 were residents or staff members at senior care facilities.

But for the elderly, that protection comes at a cost. Isolation, loneliness, and fear can be byproducts of months without outside contact.

"Senior citizens are the most vulnerable group in a situation like this," said Rev. Gary Rideout, Senior Pastor at St. Andrews United Methodist Church in Brandon.

Rev. Gary Rideout

He also is the facilitator of the Florida Conference Beyond 50 Ministries.

"It is important that they stay secluded and quarantined, but from what I've seen they also are the ones who most need to go to church, but they can't," he said.

"They need the most visits, but we can't visit them. When they're sick, we can't go to the hospital with them."

Although some churches that have reopened their sanctuaries for worship, many of them recommend that anyone 65 years or older stay home. For those elderly who are tech-savvy, logging on to streaming services offered by most churches is some comfort.

But it's not the same, and seniors who can't use a computer or tablet for Zoom calls or worship services may feel abandoned.

There are other issues as well.

"Some of these senior citizens may have dementia and not understand why no one will visit them," Rideout said.

Charlie Thrower, 92, is a founding member of Temple Terrace United Methodist Church.
He moved into assisted living in late 2019, a couple of months before the pandemic struck with full force.

He tries to stay positive during long days in his room, punctuated only by brief visits to the lobby to check his mail or pick up a newspaper. Meals are delivered to his room, and visitors from the outside aren't allowed.

"Other than that, I stay put, but I'm hanging in there," he said. "I really don't have any great complaints. Everybody here is doing the best they can under the circumstances. But it gets a little old after a while."

Charlie's days consist of a lot of television, especially reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond." He reads the newspaper "cover to cover" and watches news updates.

"I'll be glad when this over so I can get back to church," he said.

Ann Harvey also is a member at Temple Terrace UMC. She sings in the choir, has appeared in church dramas and plays, and has an ever-present smile.

The facility where she stays is restrictive, but visitors can drop by as long as they stay on the sidewalk and away from close contact. Every so often, entertainers perform on the sidewalk as well.

"But you know what I miss?" she said. "There's no touching. People are missing being touched. They miss their families and friends coming by. We're missing human contact.

"We do get to go to the dining hall in shifts, so that helps. Most people seem to be dealing with it OK. Most of them are nice and kind, but some have gotten a little persnickity."

Residents can have groceries delivered, but no restaurant meals. All packages, including groceries, are sterilized and held for 24 hours.

Early on, residents and staff were tested twice each day for signs of the virus, but now that's down to once a day. And there are activities such as bingo in the gathering room at the facility.

It's the best they can do for now.

But, Rideout said this is an opportunity for churches to organize outreach to the elderly in facilities like these. That includes both members and non-members.

About 80 such ministries exist at Florida Conference churches, but the pandemic has highlighted a greater need for elderly care. Rideout organized that ministry at his former church, First UMC at Winter Park.

One of its programs, a Brain Fitness Club, won the Innovators Achievement Award from the International Council on
Active Aging for excellence and creativity in the active-aging community.

Rideout discovered his passion for helping the elderly as a lay person at a Dallas church.

"I found it was my gift," he said. "It is my calling. I love history and I love just sitting and listening to their stories. When I'm in that moment, I feel the presence of Jesus.

"These people have kind of fallen through the cracks, and it's unfortunate and grieves me because they have given so much. In this time, it would be a good opportunity for Stephen Ministries or something like that. This would be a wonderful ministry for more churches to start."

--Joe Henderson is News Content Editor for flumc.org.


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