A Clean Bill of Health In the Face of COVID-19 at Maison Jésus-Marie: A Team Success!

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In looking back at the effect of the pandemic on Maison Jésus-Marie, the sacrifices of the resident Sisters and the efforts of the staff have been rewarded. This impeccable record – to date, no Sister has been infected or died from COVID-19 – is the result of a multitude of small and large decisions made and actions implemented, ranging from common sense to dedication to thoroughness.

Maison Jésus-Marie with its 2 pavilions, one for autonomous Sisters and the another, considered as a care environment, including palliative care, comparable to CHSLD’s (long term care and housing centres) was home to 140 Sisters as of March 2020. Two female administrators with experience in their respective fields: risk management and infection control, oversaw the measures put in place to protect the Sisters from COVID-19’

When asked about this long battle that forced them to put their personal lives on hold for several months, Geneviève Grégoire, Executive Director, and Amélie Rivard, Director of Nursing, acknowledged that they were deeply motivated by the ultimate goal shared by everyone at MJM: the safety of the Sisters and the staff. This deep desire led them to exercise vigilance as early as February 2020, even before the Quebec Public Health Department sounded the alarm.

A Head Start

During the few weeks prior, personal protective equipment had been obtained. An initial plan was established, in consultation with the group of eight Sisters responsible for the various units, the members of the Board of Directors and the staff. Moreover, throughout this time period, “listening and transparency” were the catchwords of these two managers. This approach bore fruit, when very demanding constraints were eventually imposed, and which are currently still in place.

At that time, when there were no directives yet issued by Government authorities regarding long-term care facilities, the management duo decided that the measures required for a long-term care facility would be applied to MJM. In the week following the announcement of the provincial confinement in March 2020, they put in place two measures, well before the Quebec authorities, namely the wearing of masks and the prohibiting of circulating between floors and pavilions.

Naturally, this announcement upset the Sisters and required an adaptation on their part. They would later experience further constraints. It is important to note that the Sisters from one pavilion and floor to the next, socialize and help each other. After the shock of hearing the announcement, some of them got down to work at the sewing machines to make masks.

Vigilance and Communication

In order to create a positive morale and spirit and encourage everyone to get “on board” with the health measures, Ms. Grégoire and Ms. Rivard held a bi-weekly press conference using the MJM’s closed-circuit television system. Every Tuesday and Thursday, they gave an update on the situation, presented the results of their analyses, and answered questions that Sisters had sent to them through an internal mailbox.

“We invited the Sisters to ask us questions and offer suggestions,” says Ms. Grégoire, who made it a point, along with her colleague and the SNJM leaders of the pavilions, to read everything and evaluate the elements in order to provide clear answers.

Throughout the lockdown, the duo constantly assessed the risks. “We tried to anticipate what might happen in the immediate future and in the weeks to come,” adds Amélie  Rivard. “This crisis invited us to “get out of the sandbox”. As managers, we had to think outside the box, manage differently in ways to help us move forward,” explains Geneviève Grégoire.

The road has been full of obstacles and challenges. At the same time, it was a time of strengthening the bonds between all those working and living at MJM. Everyone, from cooks to maintenance to caregiving, was concerned about the needs of one another and the Sisters. “We had a common vision to see to the safety of the Sisters and the staff. Everyone listened to each other’s concerns.”

They also acknowledged the contribution of their colleague, Marie-Christine Rivard, who “went out of her way to maintain our PPE inventory and support our efforts in managing disinfection and the development of the yellow and red zones.”

From left to right, Geneviève Grégoire, General Manager; Philippe Le Maître, Food Services Manager; Marie-Christine Rivard, Administrative Services Manager and Amélie Rivard, Care Manager

A collaborative staff

The positive outcome is a group success, the two managers insist. “We had no trouble getting the staff on board,” they say, pointing out a few telling facts.

For example, at the time of the pandemic, five employees were scheduled to retire within the year. Instead, they postponed their plans to team up with others to deal with this health crisis. At the time of writing, almost all of the 85 staff members subject to the order have been fully vaccinated.

Part of the reason for the staff’s attachment to the sisters is the friendships formed over the years. “We have staff who have worked for the sisters for 35 years. They have shared many things and grown old with them,” says Ms. Gregoire.

The environment and working conditions are also factors to consider. When the government raised salaries and offered bonuses, management had already decided to change the status of part-time staff to full-time to avoid having them move from one center to another. They also gave a bonus to all staff, not just care staff. 

A Lot of Adaptation and Resilience

Life during the pandemic has not been smooth sailing at MJM. There have been a few difficult moments, including moving the Sisters from a second-floor wing in order to designate a red zone to accommodate potential COVID cases. Then, after overcoming the pangs of confinement, the deprivation of family visits, the limitation of outings to the grounds only, the Sisters had to show great resilience again at the time of the third wave, when a staff member had become infected.

In the opinion of both managers, this was the most trying moment on a human level for the Sisters. The imposition of extremely strict public health rules without a shred of humanity contrasted with the serene climate experienced during the first 11 months. Nevertheless, a team from the CISSS de la Montérégie-Est (Integrated Health and Social Services Centres) arrived to support the existing team, which was overwhelmed by the additional tasks. Confined to their rooms, some Sisters, without access to toilets, had to use commode chairs for 19 days. For a few, this was a violation of their dignity.

Others were distressed by all the additional tasks imposed on the staff, including the distribution of meals to the rooms.

Once again, the management team showed ingenuity. They found a solution to facilitate interaction with some of the cognitively impaired Sisters who could not be locked in a windowless room. A Plexiglas door was designed and installed to allow these people to see the caregivers and interact without risk. This original “home-made” solution demonstrated to the CISSS the MJM’s ability to find inspiring solutions that could meet similar needs in other institutions.

Making Life Pleasant in Spite of Everything

The Sisters and the staff members have been marked by this pandemic. Everyone has come through it both changed and enriched. “We have learned to know each other better,” acknowledged Geneviève Grégoire, recalling, among other things, when the Sisters accompanied others to receive care at the hospital.

From left to right, Sr. Gabrielle Brunet, Marie-Ève Dupéré, Nursing Consultant; Sr. Beverley Wattling, Philippe Lemaître, Food Services Manager; Amélie Rivard, Director of Nursing; Geneviève Grégoire, Executive Director; Céline Latour, Head Nurse; Sr. Denise Riel, Provincial Animator; Sr. Michelle Gouin, Sr. Marie-Paule Demarbre, Sr. Jacqueline Longtin, Sr. Hélène Harvey, Sr. Suzanne Lavallée and Marie-Christine Rivard, Administrative Services Manager and Physical Facilities

These 20 months have forced the Sisters to adapt, something already difficult with advancing age. Nevertheless, the SNJM pavilion leaders have managed to respond to certain needs by organizing, within the limits of the health regulations, small activities to “lighten the impact of the pandemic on the life of the Sisters”, notes Sr. Marie-Paule Demarbre, Coordinator.

By means of short meetings, they also encouraged the Sisters to express their expectations and to share their reflections in order to better live through this period. According to Sr. Marie-Paule, “the various ways in which life was made more enjoyable helped to make the Sisters more and more resilient.”

If there is one thing to remember from this whole experience, it is without a doubt the feeling that everyone, regardless of their status within MJM, was 200% committed.

Everyone was united for the cause with their skills and goodwill. It is on the basis of this team success that we intend to continue to live the rest of this pandemic with a moderate optimism.