Rand Aid – remaining connected despite the lockdown

Sue Prior, Rand Aid’s Community Care Co-ordinator, and her team have found a way to involve village residents in meaningful activity during the national coronavirus lockdown by encouraging them to make masks.

A 117-year-old non-profit organisation, Rand Aid provides an essential service to around 1 500 older persons at its four retirement villages and two care centres.

The mask project, initiated by Matron Avril Maltman and Ron Smith Care Centre Sister, Leanie Bessinger, was communicated to residents in all the villages by Sue and Rand Aid’s other social workers.

“So many of our staff travel to work in taxis and they feel vulnerable. Face masks are so scarce that we are not in a position to issue them with masks for this purpose. However, we can, with the assistance of residents, issue them with fabric masks that can be washed and reused,” says Sue, adding that all staff members, who are deemed essential workers, are frequently screened for symptoms of the virus.

An appeal was put out to the residents in all the villages for fabric and bias binding, along with a template for making the masks, and magnificent masks soon began pouring in.

“Those residents who have a machine and sewing skills are eagerly embracing the opportunity to be creative, and those with materials to donate have told us they have been able to do a long overdue ‘cupboard clear out’,” says Sue.

“The donation of material, skills and time by residents is priceless in that it is bringing peace of mind to so many. In a time when many feel helpless, this exercise is giving such a sense of purpose to our residents while filling a valuable need.”

Another initiative, developed by Corlia Schutte – the occupational therapist at Rand Aid’s Ron Smith Care Centre – is the Survival Kit, a pack of activities and exercises to help residents keep boredom at bay and to encourage them to keep fit.

“These have been distributed to residents in self-isolation, while some of the activities are shared with residents via the villages’ weekly newsletters,” explains Sue.

She says that the lockdown can make people feel anxious and unsettled at times. “What we often find in a catastrophic situation, such as this pandemic, is that people who have been dealing with a number of small difficulties and who may have just been managing to cope, find themselves overwhelmed when another burden is added or a support structure is removed. Then, their capacity to cope becomes compromised.”

Rand Aid’s social workers are available to lend emotional comfort or just to chat when residents feel overwhelmed and to explore ways of normalising circumstances and putting in place resources for additional support.

“We have worked hard to reach a point where Rand Aid’s social workers are an integral and trusted part of village life and as a silver lining in this extraordinary time, this is giving us new opportunities to interact with and get to know our residents.

“We are also better able to provide links between families, staff and residents in all the villages and care centres,” she says.

Debbie Christen, Rand Aid’s Manager: Recreational Activities, has been taking photos of all residents in the Ron Smith Care Centre and emailing them, with a short note, to family members who are unable to see their loved ones as a result of the lockdown.

This initiative, conceived by Zabeth Zühlsdorff, Rand Aid’s GM: Services and Advance Division, has been greatly appreciated by family members.

Resident Olive Jew’s daughter was one of the people to receive an email and photo. She responded, “Oh Debbie, you can’t imagine how much having this beautiful picture of my beloved mum means to me. We miss her dreadfully. She is such an inspiration to us all and is always bright and cheerful. Thank you, thank you, for this thoughtful kindness.”

Here to serve

“Our frontline personnel remain at their posts to support residents through these uncertain times,” says Zabeth. “Our residents must know that we are here for them.”

To facilitate safer interaction, safety screens have been erected at the reception desks of all Rand Aid’s retirement villages and care centres to protect residents and staff from potential infections.

“The virus spreads mainly through droplets, thus the reception counters are vulnerable areas due to the close interaction that takes place between residents and staff. Although we have asked residents to limit visits to the office, there are times when they do need to come in.

“After seeing the screens implemented at Pick n Pay pay points for cashiers, we decided to do something similar. John Switala, our maintenance manager, contacted Maizey Plastics, which agreed to open the factory to meet our urgent need for Perspex. As we do not have the machinery to cut Perspex, Quentin du Preez, one of our regular kitchen cupboard contractors came to our rescue and cut the Perspex himself,” says Zabeth.

Inyoni Creek village resident Dawn Kemp with some of the masks that have been made by Rand Aid’s residents.

Inyoni Creek resident Sandra Spirou visits the village’s front office after completing 14 days in self-isolation, which was necessitated by a trip to Australia. Fortunately, Sandra remained virus-free.

Sister Leanie Bessinger, who has spearheaded the drive for masks for the Ron Smith Care Centre.

A selection of the masks made by residents of Rand Aid’s villages, from material that was also donated by residents.

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