In Latin America, Preparing Nursing Homes Prevented Crisis

October 6, 2020


COVID-19 is especially dangerous to the elderly, making geriatric care facilities like nursing homes particularly vulnerable in an outbreak. But in Latin America, professionals from Jewish nursing homes across the region have been able to care for both their clients and their staff — thanks in part to the support of JDC.

In November 2019, JDC organized a seminar for Jewish nursing home administrators and staff in Montevideo, Uruguay. Forty-two professionals from nursing homes in six countries gathered for two days to learn from experts, build connections, and share information. At the time, the looming pandemic was far from anyone’s mind.

When the event was over, the participants remained in contact via a group WhatsApp chat, helping each other with problems and discussing best practices. The challenges faced in one nursing home, as well as the solutions staff members find, are often directly applicable to those in others, and no challenge has been more universal than the coronavirus pandemic.

Ionit Leibovici is the executive director of the Hogar de Ancianos Israelita del Uruguay in Montevideo, the only Jewish institution in Uruguay to provide comprehensive care for the elderly.

“We are here for those who can afford their golden years, as well as for those who can’t,” Leibovici said.

Daily life at the Hogar has changed dramatically since the pandemic began. The residents have been divided into five groups — partially to ensure their varying needs are still being met, and also as a protective measure to prevent an outbreak from spreading beyond a single group. New safety and cleaning protocols have been implemented and additional materials purchased, including masks, gloves, cleaning supplies, and plexiglass barriers for visitation rooms.

Jonathan Cohen, corporate management coordinator of the Hogar LeDor VaDor in Buenos Aires, Argentina, described a similar transformation at his nursing home, where new measures have been devised, like an employee risk map that has improved the safety of their commutes, or technology that is helping the 270 elderly residents remotely visit their family members and participate in activities.

These rapid adjustments would not have been possible without the support and suggestions Leibovici, Cohen, and their teams received from colleagues all over Latin America, as well as the additional online meetings JDC has organized since the pandemic began.

In March, the network received training from an infectious diseases expert from Spain, one of the European countries hit hardest by the pandemic; in May, they met with JDC elderly care specialists in Israel to share best practices; and in June, staff from nursing homes in Argentina, Mexico, and Chile shared their experiences with COVID–19 cases in their respective facilities. JDC expects to hold more of these meetings in the months to come.

“Thanks to the JDC network, we were able to anticipate needs with more and better measures, exchange protocols, and adapt them to each country´s situation,” Leibovici said. “It is a priceless exchange for those of us that work with vulnerable and marginal populations.”

For both Jewish professionals, these recent trainings are part of larger structures of JDC support that have empowered them to succeed in their careers: In 2008, Leibovici participated in the Leatid training program for Jewish professionals, while Cohen is currently a fellow in the Kaplan Leadership Initiative.

“I see my personal and professional life as before and after Leatid,” Leibovici said of her year in the JDC-powered program. “It was the best experience for me.”

Leatid prepares participants for management with a focus on the particular needs of non-profit organizations. Among the skills she honed was how to manage the many stakeholders in a non-profit — the board of directors, volunteers, donors, and clients who are community members. Leatid also gave her access to a professional network that has helped her along her path.

For Cohen, the Kaplan Leadership Initiative — a JDC program created by Carol and Ed Kaplan that brings together Jewish professionals from Latin America, Europe, and the former Soviet Union — has done more than prepare him to thrive in his career; it has rooted his work in his Jewish identity.

“We can be Argentinian, American, etc., but mainly we are Jewish,” he said. “Jewish values in action, like tikkun olam and tzedakah, are so important.”

Both Leibovici and Cohen emphasized how well-prepared they felt for a crisis of COVID-19’s magnitude, which they attribute in large part to JDC’s community-building and leadership-training efforts.

“This only exists within the Jewish community,” Leibovici said.

Cohen echoed his colleague, adding that the JDC network helps him feel supported in a volatile situation.

“We have the skills, the training, and the community resources to handle this crisis,” he said. “We’re not just working in the short- and middle-term, but also building for the future. It’s something you can see clearly in this moment.”


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