Hope in Community — A Tribute to Nursing Homes for National Skilled Nursing Care Week 2020

By Rev. Kenneth Daniel  •  May 14, 2020

As we cope with the COVID-19 pandemic here in Ohio, the governor has adopted the phrase “We’re in this together” as his motto. I think he’s captured a deep human truth. Being together provides individuals a chance at success in overcoming whatever challenge they face.

The Early Church

The story of the early church reflects both the struggles and the successes to create a lasting expression of the first Christians’ faith in Jesus Christ. There was no guarantee that the fledging community would even survive year to year, let alone 2,000 years into the future. Most of all, the early church discovered the hope that came from being together in community. Somehow, with community, the struggles of each generation could be endured.

The founders of United Church Homes, like the earliest Christian communities, realized that life together is the antidote to the many social ills that beset the world. Back then, older adults faced isolation, discrimination and poverty. The era was marked by great disruption and anxiety for many, especially frail elders. Sound familiar?

A Prayer for Safety, Peace and Love

Bringing even frail elders together into nursing and supportive living settings isn’t about efficiency of service. It’s about creating a sense of belonging. With that hope, people experience renewal of spirit. Together in community, we can find support and strength. We find common values and experience an inner peace from being accepted and nurtured. And yes, that happens even in a nursing home. Many of our elders will tell you that living in a UCH nursing home was the answer they needed — an answer to a prayer for a place of safety, peace and love.

Nursing Homes During the Pandemic

You may wonder how an organization that operates 11 nursing homes can find any sense of peace these days. Loud voices criticize the nursing home industry for the many deaths that have occurred across the country during the COVID-19 pandemic. The nightly news shows families in despair, visiting their loved ones by standing at their windows and peering inside the buildings. At UCH, we’ve added video visits, fun activities and other creative ways to keep people safely engaged and together.

Employees show amazing courage to go to work, not knowing where the virus may be and fear either catching it themselves or taking it home to their families. And while senior facilities have continued to operate as essential businesses during the pandemic, they have received an abundance of criticism and scapegoating from a society that has long undervalued and underinvested in senior care — especially for those most vulnerable and impoverished.

From Facilities to Communities

We call our nursing facilities “communities” for a reason. While still imperfect, the ability of our staff to fashion our plans of care and develop supportive environments remains our mission every day.

Senior care organizations like ours, especially nursing homes, deserve more recognition and public support than they receive. Instead of vilification, we need understanding and an assured pipeline of proper funding, medical support and personal protection equipment. We need regulatory relief instead of added, unfunded mandates that provide little help and are only targeted at the bad actors who get the most publicity in this industry. Look at UCH social media pages to see a myriad of stories about how our staff are “warriors,” fighting against the virus and for the well-being of our residents.

The Good Shepherd

I recently heard a sermon that reflected on community life in the early church. It made me smile because it helped me connect the idea that community is about a kind of holding. The story of Jesus the Good Shepherd is a metaphor for how we are held together in community — just like the shepherd whose love holds the flock.

Abundant Life in Community

In community, we are held together by God’s presence that we experience as acceptance for one another. We hold each other in love and radical acceptance. At United Church Homes, we believe in this so strongly we have based our entire vision on it — to be the place “where the Spirit creates abundant life in community.”

So, ponder the humble, faith-inspired nonprofit nursing home for a moment. Soon, you will distinguish the quality of care that comes from living in a supportive, inclusive community. Despite hard economic times, pandemics, wars and social oppression, the community of Christ’s love is the way God deliberately rebuilds creation the way it was meant to be — yes, even in a nursing home.

About the Author

Rev. Kenneth Daniel

Rev. Kenneth Daniel is the president and CEO of United Church Homes. A licensed nursing home administrator, he has worked in a variety of positions of responsibility in senior healthcare and housing services over the past 30 years. Rev. Daniel holds a master's degree in divinity from United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, a master's degree in pastoral counseling from Moravian Theological Seminary and a master's degree of public administration from Marywood University. Immediately prior to joining United Church Homes, Rev. Daniel was interim president of Lancaster Theological Seminary. An ordained United Church of Christ minister, Rev. Daniel holds Fellow status with the American College of Health Care Administrators.

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