How You Help: Suzanne, COVID, and One Friendly Bison
Suzanne Shallat lives at Halom House, an eight-resident community home for developmentally disabled adults. It was founded by Jewish families. Her father was one of the founders, back in 1983, when a group of families gathered to help their children become happy, independent, productive adults. By 1984 their intensive planning, work, and fundraising, including a start-up loan from the Jewish Federation of Cincinnati, had the home up and running. Last week we interviewed Suzanne via Zoom.
“I was in the hospital, and I was scared to death”
“I was in the hospital, and I was scared to death,” said Suzanne. In early April, at the beginning of the pandemic, Suzanne, 77 years old, got sick with COVID on top of pneumonia. While she went to the hospital, she was released the same day. Halom House was one of the earliest care facilities hit with COVID-19. The Jewish Federation stepped in to help through offering advice, finding medical experts to help, and arranging for volunteers to deliver meals after the home lost some frightened staff. In addition, the Federation’s allocation in place for Halom House programming was redirected for Halom House to use where it was needed most.
Fortunately all of the residents who tested positive for COVID, as well as the three staff who tested positive, are doing well. Halom House was even given an award by the State for how it managed that early-in-the-pandemic crisis. “We have had an overwhelming response from the Jewish community in wanting to wrap their arms around us in our most challenging time,” said its Executive Director, Amy Fischer.
Life after COVID
Immediately after COVID struck, the residents had to quarantine in their rooms for two weeks until Halom House had doctor approval for sharing space because basically they functioned as a family unit. Asked how it felt to come back from the hospital, Suzanne spoke about how difficult it was. “Oh it was nice to come back home. Meals had to be in our room. And I didn’t like it, because I came out for breakfast and staff said to go back in my room. I was upset [about that],” said Suzanne.
Halom House celebrated Suzanne’s 77th birthday, which was in August, virtually. They had cake and a party, but could have no visitors. As was typical the last six months, staff would take pictures or record a big event and send it to loved ones.
A Bison Adventure
Halom House recruited new staff to fill the open positions that frightened staff had left, and let the residents back into the common spaces of the home. They settled back into normal life, and slowly the residents began to be able to go to day programs. Suzanne, for example, started going again to Easterseals on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
But they hadn’t had a big outdoor, controlled outing till October 14. Elizabeth Mangold, the Group Home Manager at Halom House, explained the reason for the trip: “With COVID at Halom House they got in the rut of not being able to do anything. And it was really kind of emotional for a lot of them.” So a safari at a park in Ohio was in order.
Of the whole interview, Suzanne was most excited when talking about this trip, talking extremely fast, and nodding. She said, “Oh, the big animals. We drove. Big animals was in the car. And I was screaming bloody murder. ‘Get out the car!’ The animal was so big. I was not really yelling. We had carrots, to give to the animals. This one was tremendous.” She listed all the animals they saw: “Giraffes. Bison. Goats. Deer.” Elizabeth added, “Emus!”
Halom House is Home
Suzanne has lived at Halom House for over 35 years. If it didn’t exist, “I would cry,” she says. Asked what she likes most about it, first she said, “I got friends.” Then she added that she likes Elizabeth, who was also on the Zoom call. “You’re friendly [Elizabeth laughs],” said Suzanne to Elizabeth. “And all the help you put out.”
Food is important here, and being a part of the home. Suzanne’s favorite meal is French fries and steak. She also helps out with cooking; she likes baking and is often the one who helps with the salad.
Recently Suzanne enjoyed learning how to make bread through JEEP. Halom House participates in a program called JEEP (Jewish Education for Every Person) run by Rabbi Yaakov Karp and his wife, Miriam. At Halom House this program is also funded by the Jewish Federation. Suzanne, said Elizabeth, loved making the homemade bread with Miriam. She also enjoys the crafts they do through JEEP.
The end of the interview came because it was time for Suzanne’s walk through the house. Three times a day, helped by staff, she walks or does chair exercises, so that she can do things outside of the house, like the safari adventure. But the safari was evidently still on her mind: she added, “I took a picture,” and Elizabeth generously shared it with us. She said again, “I said get out, get out!” So the call ended with laughter.
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