How the Arcadia Family of Companies Copes with COVID-19
The retirement group adapted its pandemic plan quickly to keep residents and those under its care safe.
Editor’s Note: For our July issue of HONOLULU, we searched for stories from people all around O‘ahu about the moment COVID-19 became real to them. We spoke with a critical care nurse, care home operators, a mail carrier, a hotel worker who lost her job, a police captain and more back in April and May about the ways their lives at work and at home suddenly changed. Check back on honolulumagazine.com every week for a new story. Pick up the issue on newsstands in late June, subscribe or visit our online store.
Here are two stories from Arcadia Family of Companies, which includes two retirement residences, 15 Craigside and Arcadia; Central Union Church Adult Day Care; and Arcadia Home Health Services.
Suzie Schulberg, 43, is president and CEO of Arcadia Family of Companies and lives in Hawai‘i Kai. Here’s her story in her own words, as told to Martha Cheng.
We’ve always had a pandemic plan but this is pandemic on steroids.
I first heard about COVID-19 during the impeachment hearings—I remember sitting in our conference room and we were meeting with our financial advisers. They asked something like, “What’s going to happen with what’s on the news now?” And I remember saying, “Oh, the impeachment?” And the adviser looked at me and said, “No, coronavirus.” I remember H1N1 and all this kind of stuff; in my mind I’m thinking, “Gosh, no, it’s not going to be anything.” But then boom, it just started to roll.
It was like a domino that kept falling. We stopped visitors from coming into the Craigside and Arcadia community March 16, and we closed the day care down March 18.
We’ve had a handful of people that have passed away over the last couple of months (not from COVID-19)—we are a life plan community with a lot of elders. And families are very understanding that we will have the service later when things calm down.
One thing though, on the opposite side of death, has been a celebration of 100 years of life. One of our residents celebrated her 100th birthday. Her daughter had spent so much time organizing everything and family was coming in from the Mainland. And then this hit. So she didn’t have her huge party. So I thought, OK, well, maybe we won’t have outside guests. We’ll just have the residents come down. And then from the mayor: no more than 10 people in a gathering place. So no, we can’t have 100 residents come down for this thing. She ended up having a really beautiful birthday—it was just different. She was on one side of the lobby and then her family in the garden on the other side of the glass.
Chaplain George heads up our chaplaincy program for the Arcadia family of companies, but we have not been able to have him come into the community for a month. So we livestreamed him in our chapel while practicing social distancing with residents, and streamed it in all resident apartments. I had this cathartic moment where I got kind of teary—to see his face, to hear him sing with the residents. It was just that human touch, which I think during this whole thing, we have to remember that even though life is going to change when all this is over, we still have to find a way to that human-ness, because it’s so important.
I’ve always had an interest in infection prevention control. Originally, I became a nurse because of my experiences working in West Africa as a Peace Corps volunteer in community health and AIDS prevention. And really, it was there that I first had this inkling that infectious disease and community health was really fascinating to me and really important. Working as an emergency room nurse, I had to do a lot of pandemic planning. It was in the years after SARS had struck. We were trained specifically about what to do to recognize respiratory illnesses and how to implement the very first measures.
One of the things that I think we take for granted in the developed world is that we’re going to have OK health and that we’re all great. Because of my experiences working in the developing world, I can see that this is not something that we should take for granted. This is something that can change at any moment.
It was mid-to-late January when I first heard about COVID-19. A nurse here saw me in the hallway and said, “Oh, Anna, did you hear about all the pneumonia happening in China?” I said, “What are you talking about?” And she said, “Just look on CNN.” So I went back to the office and immediately I was worried, having known that pandemics are something that can happen, with SARS, with the swine flu outbreak. So I looked at it right away and just kept following it. At that time, I wasn’t thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is going to be a huge pandemic that’s going to come and affect my life,” but then, as things started getting worse and worse, and especially once we started realizing that this was something that was affecting those over the age of 65, and then especially those aged 85, that’s when I realized if and when this did come to our part of the world that this could have a disastrous effect.
I have two small children—a 6-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son. My parents were coming to visit here for the very first time. And during the beginning part of this, I wasn’t sure if I was being overly sensitive, so every day, I would call and say, “Are you still coming? Should you still come?” I didn’t want my saturation in COVID to affect my personal life with my children and their grandparents. But in mid-March we decided we had to cancel and that was very, very difficult for me—taking the grandparents of my children away from my children. The next day the CDC said people over the age of 65 shouldn’t fly and I thought, OK, we have done the right thing. This is real.
Staff members are scared. We’re having to really show up on the front line and do what’s right and uphold our moral and ethical obligations, but at the same time, that doesn’t stop people from feeling scared. I’ve had to have conversations with staff members here who are really generally fearful, not necessarily for their own health and safety, but afraid to bring the virus home to their children. Those kinds of conversations, where we’re able to have a heart-to- heart talk, we’re able to arm people with the knowledge that they need to be able to still show up and perform our responsibilities as front line health care workers has meant a lot to me. I feel like I’ve been able to connect with staff in a way that I haven’t necessarily been able to before.
There’s so many other things that we see here in the nursing home section of Arcadia. When you’re dealing with older folks who are living in nursing homes, it’s the nonverbal communication that’s so important for making connections. And I’ve been able to witness really wonderful examples of our staff members finding ways to go beyond the fact that there’s a mask blanking out your face right now—I’ve seen people dancing in the hallways to make people laugh. There was one trying to make a connection with one of our residents and felt like the mask was getting in their way. So they backed up more than 6 feet away, took off the mask and said, “See, it’s me. Here I am.”