We announced a decision this week that, as an organization, was seen by some as a very bold step. We are the first long-term care organization in the State of New Jersey to make COVID vaccines mandatory for our staff. Being vaccinated against COVID by July 1 is now a condition of employment at the Jewish Home Family. Yes, we have a process for staff to request a medical or religious exemption with full documentation and yes, we will adjust our requirements to meet the needs of staff with special medical needs (pregnancy or active treatment for a medical condition that might be contraindicated with vaccine) but the goal is a steadfast one—to achieve 100% vaccination across every element of our organization.
From my own perspective, there is no more compelling argument than remembering what we have experienced over the last 15 months. As an organization and as individuals, we struggled and we fought, we suffered and we persevered. All of us have vivid memories of what COVID was like for us, what it did to our beloved elders as well as to many of our staff, friends and families. I heard someone recently talk about “bearing witness” and it struck me as so apt in this circumstance. We have all borne witness to the impact of the pandemic on the life of elders. We have seen people become ill. We have seen some recover and also been there as others did not survive. We have been present for the heroism of so many of our staff and the incredible resilience of so many of the people that we serve.
We have also witnessed the tragedy of isolation and the damage that it brings to our elders. We have implemented and followed all of the guidelines and all of the restrictions that were imposed and understand that the intentions were good and the goal was, of course, safety and protection. Yet we saw the frustration of our elders as they asked why their opinions did not matter, why they did not have any choices, why they felt disenfranchised and without rights as their freedoms were taken away. All of our efforts, and they were many and extensive, did not fully remediate the damage that being without family and full socialization wrought.
There is no question that any of us who work with older adults will ever forget this experience. Our lives and our perspectives have been forever changed. While we pray that we will never again have to confront a pandemic of such sweeping and devastating proportions, should that day arise, we will not fail to bear witness. We will not fail to speak out, to testify, on behalf of our elders—their rights, their choices, their well-being.