With elderly hardest hit by COVID-19, Ebenezer Home feels the strain

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Though none of the residents at Ebenezer Home — the only facility for elderly believers in Israel — has been diagnosed with COVID-19, the staff there is operating under a tremendous amount of pressure to keep it that way.

“As you know, nursing homes are the weak link today, so there are constantly renewed procedures that need to be implemented,” Johnny Khoury, manager of Ebenezer, told Kehila News.

Elderly-care facility and nursing home residents account for 30 percent of Israelis who have died from COVID-19. Because of their advanced age and the fact that they live in a communal environment, chances of nursing home residents contracting the virus are much higher.

“Almost every day (and sometimes more than once a day) we receive from the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Health updates regarding directive that we need to implement in the home,” Khoury said. “These directives concern employees, residents and their families and suppliers who come to the home. Almost every day we discuss the new developments and procedures in order to implement them accordingly in the various departments.”

As of Friday morning, 93 people have died in Israel and more than 10,000 were diagnosed with the current coronavirus.

Due to sweeping and strict measures taken in Israel, foreign volunteers that served at Ebenezer were forced to return home and no new volunteers — not even even Israeli residents — are allowed to volunteer during this period. The current staff of 35 — many working in shifts and all operating under new and stringent guidelines — care for 26 believers who live there.

“Part of the pressure also comes from the fact that we cannot receive outside volunteer help, so as a team we have to bridge the gap and keep up the various activities,” Khoury said.

Kehila News Israel asked Khoury how Ebenezer, its staff and residents were adapting to the pandemic sweeping the world, and staying safe and healthy.

KNI: What steps do you take in order to ensure the residents’ health? What changes have you made during this period?

In the home, over and above maintaining the workers’ hygiene procedures (as described below), we also try, as much as possible, to keep the residents at a fair distance from each other, especially when there are joint activities. The staff in the home needs to wear face masks when interacting with the residents.

In addition, the home is in “isolation.” Apart from our employees and volunteers, no one is allowed to enter. The residents’ families are also not allowed into the home and they are also prohibited from sending them food and goods because we want to minimize the potential for infection. Anyone who wants to visit their parent must stay on the porch at the entrance and talk to them through the window, without any physical contact. It’s a sensitive and unpleasant situation for us all, but we have no choice — we must do everything to keep our residents safe.

Of course, there are also those who use Zoom or other video calls to be in touch with their parents. In order to keep up the contact with the families on a regular basis, we have opened a WhatsApp group and we update them on what is happening in the home.

In order to reduce the risk of infection we also keep the residents’ mail in the office for a few days before passing it on to them. In addition, all the medical appointments to the different clinics, apart from urgent ones, have been canceled.

If one of the residents becomes ill with fever, a runny nose or a cough, as a means of precaution we immediately place him or her in isolation in their room and we notify the Welfare Inspector. We are thankful that up until now we have only had seasonal illnesses and they have passed.

The residents are forbidden to leave the property except for an outing to our garden adjacent to the home. If the residents are in need for any shopping we take their requests and do the shopping for them.

KNI: What are some of the changes the staff has had to make during this time?

We are subject to the instructions and guidelines of the Ministry of Welfare and the Ministry of Health. Employees receive from us updates on WhatsApp whenever they need to be informed about new instructions and procedures. The staff is not in isolation, but all the employees have been asked to strictly keep the instructions about hygiene, keeping distance and avoiding contact with other people when they are outside the nursing home.

Employees are also required to check their temperature at home, before they arrive at work and fill out a statement form that they don’t have temperature that is above 38 degrees Celsius and that they are not coughing or having respiratory difficulty. They must hand me the signed statement form every day. Workers who have a cold, fever or cough are not permitted to work until they recover. The problem is that if a worker is on sick leave, due to the limited manpower we have, it requires the other workers to fill their shift.

In addition, when employees arrive at work, they must immediately wash their hands or disinfect them with a gel before stamping their work card. Employees must also wash their hands thoroughly several times during the work day and also wear masks in public spaces, especially when interacting with the residents.

Another thing we did was to divide our workers into two separate groups during breakfast and lunchtime, to make sure there is enough distance between all those using the communal dining room.

Employees who also work elsewhere have to choose where they want to work (only one work place is permitted).

At some point we may need to change the structure of the shifts and ask employees to stay in the Ebenezer Home for a few days in order to reduce the frequency of entries and exits of employees.

KNI: What is the atmosphere in the Ebenezer Home — is there fear? Peace? Pressure?

Our employees and residents aren’t stressed by the coronavirus. The residents feel very safe and blessed knowing that we are making every effort to protect them even if the price is inconvenience and “social isolation.”

As a team, and especially for me as the responsible manager, our real pressure is implementing the procedures while still trying to maintain a routine. The problem is that at least 95 percent of my time is devoted only to corona-related issues and I have almost no time for current matters. As the manager I have to be in frequent contact with the Department of Social Welfare and report almost daily on virus-related issues. On a weekly basis I fill out various reports concerning the virus.

Part of the pressure also comes from the fact that we cannot receive outside volunteer help, so as a team we have to bridge the gap and keep up the various activities. For example, on a regular basis different volunteers from the different congregations come to the home at 7:30 a.m. to share a Bible devotion and prayer time with the residents. Due to the situation I do that every day (which is a blessing). On Saturdays, my wife Shoshana and I also come to the home so that the residents can watch the live broadcast of the Bible teaching from the nearby congregation via the Internet.

We also need to provide transportation for the workers for we want to prevent workers from coming to work by public transport. We drive those without vehicles back and forth. The difficulty is mainly driving those who live far away (Nahariya and Tiberias).

One other matter has to do with the financial situation. On one hand, due to the situation there is a “black market” of products such as gel, face masks etc. and the prices are very high. There are also products that have been sold out from the pharmacies. On the other hand, because the coronavirus is a pandemic, we are concerned that there will be a decrease in donations to the home.

However, we continue trusting our faithful God! We are very thankful for the privilege of serving our residents at all times and all the more, at a time like this.

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Khoury also encouraged congregations to take Ministry of Health guidelines seriously and avoid contact with the elderly.

“If there are elderly in your congregation who are unable to shop, order medicine or deliveries online, it is advisable to appoint a person to be in charge and be in contact with the elderly and make sure to meet their needs, following the given restrictions,” Khoury advised.

Ebenezer Home was founded in order to enable “Israeli citizens in their elderly years to have a place to call home in a believing environment that represents Christian and biblical values. Because of Yeshua, our Home consists of both Jewish and Arab believers living joyfully together in Him!”

“Then Samuel took a stone, and set it between Mizpeh and Shen, and called the name of it Ebenezer, saying, Hitherto hath the LORD helped us.”
1 Samuel 7:12

Please pray for God’s continued protection over the Ebenezer Home and renewed strength for the staff.

To learn more about this unique elderly home in Israel or to help, visit Ebenezer’s website