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Neither Snow nor Gloom of Night Deters Village Shalom Staff

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Two major snowstorms hit the Kansas City area in less than a week, closing schools and businesses, and making many roads impassible. But they did not deter dedicated Village Shalom employees from being at work to serve the needs of the senior adults in their charge.

Unlike other Jewish-community-sponsored organizations in Kansas City, Village Shalom cannot suspend activities during severe weather. As a round-the-clock health care facility and home to more than 200 residents, the continuing-care retirement community must serve meals, administer medications and meet basic personal needs – come rain, shine or blizzard. Committed to that obligation, many employees managed to get to work and remain on duty for additional shifts, despite Mother Nature’s winter fury.

“It’s indicative of our staff’s depth of commitment. They were willing to do whatever it took to care for our residents,” said Matthew Lewis, President and CEO. “It’s the embodiment of teamwork.”

Though road conditions made it impossible for some employees to get to work, others managed to make it to Village Shalom from across the area. They readily took on longer hours and double shifts, and even handled jobs other than their own to cover for staffing shortages.

Dennis Nealey, driver of Village Shalom’s 26-passenger bus, was “busy as a bumble bee,” he said, shuttling employees (instead of the usual busloads of residents) to and from the campus. He ventured out multiple times to their homes in Overland Park, Lenexa and Olathe, asking employees to walk to the end of their snowed-in streets so he could pick them up. “The bus got stuck seven or eight times,” Nealey commented, “but I’m pretty good at getting it out.” During the first storm, he piloted the bus on another important run as well -- to take a Village Shalom resident to the hospital.

 

Several employees were picked up for work by the Village Shalom bus. Those at least partially visible are (from left) Fredrick Nyambura, CNA; Violet Meiseiyieki, CNA; Rhoda Nzuki, CNA; Eleni Yacob, CMA; and Antony Njoroge, LPN-Charge Nurse.

Members of the Security and Maintenance crews arrived at Village Shalom before the brunt of the first storm, and spent much of the day digging out residents’ and employees’ cars. Maintenance Manager Tim McFarland returned later in the day to help Director of Resident Services Eileen Miller deliver meals to residents in the independent-living Villas. McFarland drove a couple of department directors to Target to purchase necessities for their two-day stint. He then drove some of his own staff to their homes so they wouldn’t have to negotiate the snow-packed roads.

 

Helping to shovel out are Mike Dameron, Security; Tim McFarland, Maintenance; Edward Salinas and Gordon Camacho, Facilities.

“Several CNAs (certified nursing assistants) did double shifts,” reported Mike Rubaie, Security officer. “I drove them to the Extended Stay hotel after the end of their shift at 11:00 p.m., for them to be picked up at 6:45 a.m. to do it again at 7:00” the next morning. More than 20 employees lodged in hotel rooms near Village Shalom during both storms.

For those employees who stayed over at Village Shalom beyond their regular shifts, finding adequate sleeping quarters presented some creative challenges. Karen Gibbins, LPN, took charge of making sure everyone had a bed. Some slept on mattresses brought into a couple of vacant Assisted Living apartments. Others overnighted on cots in empty activity rooms, offices, a computer lab and even in the therapy area of the campus’s Wang Rehabilitation Center.

 

Samuel Abebe, food server, camped out on an air mattress in Day Stay.

Receptionist Beth Miller worked a two-day stint, arriving at her usual time of 7 o’clock in the morning before the first storm began in earnest. Anticipating the weather’s severity, she came equipped with an overnight bag. “I slept in the Media Room (a television room in the Assisted Living wing) and got cleaned up in the Spa & Wellness Center,” she said, before beginning the next day at the front desk.

Mealtimes presented other challenges. With many Food Services employees unable to get to work, Nursing and Housekeeping employees – including Cynthia Moore, Director of Environmental Services -- pitched in to serve meals and clear dishes for residents. A skeleton kitchen staff prepared not only the residents’ meals, but also made pizzas to feed dinner to all the employees and a hot breakfast for those who stayed overnight.

One kitchen staffer “washed dishes and pots from 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.,” said Lisa Hanson, Director of Food Services, “and then spent the night and was ready to go again at 7:00 the next morning.” Other Food Services employees brought co-workers home with them. After working 12 hours straight, three food servers went to the nearby home of Clinical Nutrition Manager Matt Homan, so they could be sure to get back to work the next morning. “They enjoyed popcorn and the movie channel at Matt’s,” Hanson said. “He made them a hot breakfast the next morning before they all came back to work.”

While work was certainly the order of the day (and night), there also was an element of fun to it all. For example, some members of the Nursing staff who hail from Ethiopia experienced their first-ever “slumber party” -- eating pizza, learning to play Bunko, and relaxing in nightclothes and bathrobes before heading to sleep between shifts.

 

Some staff members gathered for a game of Bunco before heading off to sleep between shifts: (front) Danny Koontz, social worker; Emily Hawes, LPN; Amy Lawson, CMA; Kelly Powell, Clinical Services manager; (back) Magen Morris, CNA; Evelyn Saffley, CMA; Cathy Butler, LPN; Bridgett D’Andrea, CNA; Lisa Forrest, CNA; Christine Deboe, LPN; Stacy Spornitz, CMA; Duke Ondieki, RN-House Supervisor.

“These are things that help the staff bond,” Matt Lewis commented. “These kinds of situations help every department realize that we’re all dependent on each other.”

Perhaps the best outcome of the snowstorms was the minimal impact noticed by Village Shalom’s residents. “It was great,” said resident Kate Lebovitz. “I was amazed how well [the staff] did” in keeping every area and service operating normally. “We didn’t miss anything.”