How Diaconia is facing the current coronavirus epidemic and how it is helping

Diak Krabčice (4)Marie Jurošková has a bag ready at home, packed as if she was going for a summer camp. Personal belongings, a mobile phone, a pillow, a blanket, her favourite board game. She is ready to go at any time of the day or night. However, not to a summer camp, but to clients of a Diaconia home with a special condition in Valašské Meziříčí. Together with Mrs. Maria, nine other people are prepared in the same way. Nurses, caregivers, cleaners.

Home in Valašské Meziříčí

Diaconia takes care of 42 seniors, whose average age is 87 years. Everyone has some degree of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. They need professional help 24 hours a day. In similar homes, Diaconia cares for thousands of seniors as well as people with dementia. There are 55,000 people in these services throughout the country, and more than 100,000 use the care service.

Diak Krabčice (3)In Valašské Meziříčí, the operation is currently running in the usual way. Only the visitors have disappeared and there are slightly fewer joint activities such as cooking, baking or singing. And they also happen in smaller groups. “Of course we all have masks,” emphasizes Mrs. Marie, who runs the home. Scarce medical supplies are provided by acquaintances and friends of Diaconia, who started home production with admirable vigour. Thanks to this, not only the home, but the whole local Diaconia has enough masks.

 The heroes of today are cleaners

The demands on hygiene, even in normal times very strict, are now many times higher in the home. Mrs. Marie especially highlights the forgotten heroines of today – the cleaning ladies. They have probably had the most work. Have you ever thought that many times a day the coffee machine or the fingerprint reader used by the staff to enter must be carefully disinfected? As seen from the outside, however, everything seems to happen almost as usual.

But everyone knows that can change in a matter of seconds. Just a suspicion that anyone from the home has been infected with the  coronavirus, and the entire facility is quarantined. In the extreme case, no one will be allowed in or out. And who will help the forty-two seniors?

That is why there are people who have packed bags at home. Ten brave people, led by Mrs. Marie, ready to join the seniors at any time, on call for a continuous crisis 2-week shift. They have everything thought out. Where they will sleep, how they will eat, how they will communicate with the outside world. And their backs are covered by another ten people, ready to replace them. A 2-week quarantine can be prolonged.

Contingency plans are ready

Mrs. Marie is being realistic. If a crisis occurred, everything would happen quickly and there would not be much time to think. Everyone in Diaconia knows this, and they have crisis plans both in their heads and on paper.

Nevertheless, the members of the team trust each other and are in a good mood. According to the leader Marie Jurošková, the recipe for it is openness. That is why she has introduced – in compliance with all the hygiene measures – a joint coffee break for the staff. This is an opportunity for everyone to talk about their fears in a more relaxed atmosphere, but also to laugh together. “We already have a bit of a summer camp atmosphere,” says Marie. “After all, the best friendships are formed during camps.”

Krabčice Island

In Diaconia Krabčice, they decided to close the local elderly home. Preventively, in an effort to maximise the protection of clients and staff. They started on April 3, with the quarantine lasting at least a month. For 44 employees, this means a month of separation from families and their own households. They see their loved ones only through video conferencing or over the fence. “If I want to see my wife and children, they come in a car and stay inside. I look out the window and we talk. This is how we “have coffee together”, says the director of the home, Aleš Gabrysz, who, of course, also stays put.

Diak ValMez (2)The staff has facilities in the building, where they also sleep. Of course, they are not just caretakers, or even exclusively regular employees of the Krabčice home. The team of three local cooks, for example, was extended by two cooks from the North Moravian Pension pod Lípou. Together, they perfectly manage all-day dining for almost 140 people.

Of the seven employees in charge of cleaning and laundry in the home during normal operation, four remained in voluntary quarantine. The range of cleaning work they have to do every day is huge. Sweep and wipe (sometimes twice) an area about the size of a hockey field: 1800 square meters. In addition, disinfect all switches and handles in four buildings twice a day. Also wash 100 kilos of laundry of clients and employees per day. Quite a performance.

Letters for joy

The Diaconal Centre for Development and Humanitarian Cooperation also helps. No matter how the homes for the elderly face the risk of infection, they remain closed to the public, i.e. mainly for relatives and acquaintances of clients. Seniors in residential services thus find themselves in social isolation, they cannot see their families, friends, or “their” volunteers. Sometimes, even for fear of spreading coronavirus, they even have to stay in their rooms most of the day, and they can’t even visit each other. That is why the Centre for Development and Humanitarian Cooperation approached its volunteers to take part in the “Letters for Joy” initiative.

Readers of this article can easily express support for seniors. Write a short letter ideally by hand on a maximum of one A4 page, take a photo of the letter on your phone or scan it and send it to the Centre via the web form jsmesvami.diakonie.cz/dopis-pro-radost (thus saving your trip to the post office). The staff of the centre will then deliver the letter to one of the diaconal homes. The first batch of letters travelled to Písek, Krabčice, Rýmařov, Vsetín, Dvůr Králové nad Labem and Myslibořice.

How to help quickly and efficiently

However, it is also necessary to think about single-parent families, people with disabilities or people caring for their loved ones. These are, for example, clients of civic counselling centres and other Diaconia facilities. For example, Mrs. Eva: She worked part-time in a parking lot and the income from the part-time job was very important for her, because she has a third-degree disability pension and also health problems that make her have to take expensive medication. Eva hopes that the company she worked for will take care of her at a time of coronavirus restrictions, but it is not certain. In any case, she is now in a situation where she has lost her regular monthly earnings of 3,000 crowns.

Diak Krabčice (5)

Mrs. Eva is one of the first people to be supported in her financial distress with the collection announced in March to help people affected by the current coronavirus crisis.

Help is needed quickly so that people do not stay in the lurch until they receive social benefits from the state or otherwise adapt to the new situation.

Funds are constantly being added to the collection, and it was also supported by the ECCB Synodal Council  with the amount of 300,000 CZK from the social and charitable assistance fund. Thank you very much for remembering those in need.

Adam Šůra