Re-opening Camphill Ghent

Camphill Ghent, Chatham, NY – At Camphill Ghent, community building is a dynamic, creative process engaging the active participation of all those whose consider themselves members of our community. Maintaining our sense of interconnectedness in these trying times of fear and concern regarding the coronavirus has been critical towards the health and well being of our elderly residents. What gives life meaning if not our close friends and family? Feelings of isolation and disenfranchisement can quickly take hold under such circumstances.

While operating in full compliance with the ever evolving guidelines issued by the New York State Department of Health, we at Camphill Ghent have made painstaking efforts to help those in our care remain in close contact with those they love the most. We have had to redefine the terms “visit” and “re-opening,” as the former use of such terms fails to describe that which we have managed to facilitate. Being situated minutes from the thriving village of Chatham, NY, has allowed us since our inception to weave an intricate network of relationships and ties with the broader community; we are integrated. Up until March of this year, we had an open door policy, greeting visitors of all kinds with friendly, hospitable smiles. Safety restrictions due to the concerns of COVID-19 have caused us to modify our approach to openness and hospitality.

Being flexible and seeing the possibilities within the restrictions has been key to adjusting during these difficult times. In the early days of the lockdown, virtual forms of communication proved crucial to our efforts at facilitating connections between residents and their loved ones. We soon realized that our technical capacity was not up to the magnitude suddenly necessary; to meet these sudden needs, we conducted a crowd funding campaign so that we could purchase new laptops and iPads. Our devoted and generous donors quickly saved the day, sending over $6,000.00 our direction in a matter of days! Being able to purchase and make use of such devices was and continues to be a great support in our community building efforts.

Window visits and “drive-by” birthday celebrations have been a theme throughout. Our devoted families have come and spoken to their loved ones through the window on many occasions, braving first chilly and then very hot weather. Sometimes they do so with the help of the phone, as they each speak on opposite sides of the window. This is, of course, less than ideal, but at least they have been able to be in closer proximity then merely on the phone. The drive-by parties have been a special innovation, with a long train of cars playing music on one occasion for a Chatham native resident, then a big van dropping off a very special birthday cake for another. While such forms of connection fall far from what we usually do, they have been a welcome form of engagement for those otherwise in a very enclosed situation.

By the time outdoor visits were permitted by The Department of Health, our residents and their loved ones seemed all too ready to participate. Being deprived of such connection for months primed them with longing for those with whom they feel closest. Knowing this full well, we worked feverishly to create the space and the in-house guidelines necessary to steward such visits. In mid July, the outdoor visits were allowed to begin. One of our residents when asked if she prefers the outdoor visits to the window visits, said, “Oh, of course, there is really no comparison.” Even being outside and socially distanced while in the company of loved ones is a huge step in the right direction for maintaining connections with loved ones.

Understandably, re-opening elder communities needs to be a gradual process for the physical health and wellness of those in New York and all over the world. It becomes an ethical dilemma when we feel we may have to sacrifice their emotional and psychological wellness to preserve physical safety. Feelings of interconnectedness to those we love are for some our raison d’etre, the reason we wish to live. It has been crucial for us as a holistic, integrated community to harness all our communication possibilities and maximize the potential of each. After all, both the physical and emotional well being of our residents is at stake. It is of paramount concern that we continue to exemplify integrated elder care and pave the way for similar initiatives. Written by Kristina Labaty, Camphill Ghent, Chatham, NY.