Updated: Nov 3
Written by Andrew Wig of the Sun Current and appearing in the September 2, 2020 issue.
When the COVID-19 pandemic is over, not everything will go back to the way it was, even if that’s an option.
That much is true for Normandale Center for Healing and Wholeness, which has operated out of an Edina church since 1998 while addressing the needs of the southwest metro’s senior population.
When the realities of the pandemic became clear in March, the center was forced to take its classes and support groups online. And now, amid enduring hopes that life will one day return to normal, the social services provider has no plans to go back to the old way completely – not after going virtual has allowed the organization to reach more people than it did just a few months ago.
“In some ways, this has transformed our business model,” said Jennifer Monroe, executive director for Normandale Center for Healing and Wholeness, which is based at Normandale Lutheran Church.
Demand for the organization’s services, which are meant to enhance the quality of life for elders and their caregivers, has grown so much that the center had added support groups since the pandemic began. “We’ve had a number of new clients just the past couple months,” Monroe said, noting that some of them are logging on from out of state.
To her, it’s understandable why the new online offerings, delivered mostly through videoconferencing, would be attractive. “You can log on at home and close the door and be a part of a group of other folks,” Monroe observed.
So, at least when it comes to reaching people online, the pandemic will have lasting effects for the center. “I think we will have elements of that for everything we do,” Monroe said.
Giving up in the face of COVID-19 was not an option, she noted, because Normandale’s clients, isolated and facing greater risks than the general population, “are arguably the hardest hit by COVID-19.”
She knows that reality well, since combatting isolation among seniors is one of the center’s central missions. “There’s so much related to the negative effects of isolation and just how much family support can increase life satisfaction,” Monroe said.
Most of her organization’s direct clients are those who care for friends and family, caregivers such as Minnetonka resident Maria Klein. “They just never let go of the lifeline that everybody is holding on to,” she observed of Normandale’s pivot.
Klein receives guidance from the center as she cares for her husband, Fred, who at 88, is living with dementia. “The really awful thing about any kind of dementia is that it just peels away the person that you used to know,” Maria Klein said.
Like with most, COVID-19 only exacerbated the Kleins’ challenges. “It was very isolating for both of us, but particularly for me,” Klein said.
Normally, she used the homecare services she found through Normandale as an opportunity to get out of the house and run errands or have lunch with friends, but those options dimmed during the stay-at-home spring and a summer of limited contact.
The support groups that Normandale put online helped her cope, however. Caring for someone with dementia is “confusing, fatiguing, frustrating, enervating,” said Klein, 73. “And you can’t do it alone.”
Through the center’s newly online support groups, she didn’t have to. One benefit of these conversations has been a sense of gratitude, “because it could be so much worse,” Klein said.
Some of the support groups’ participants have spouses in their 50s and 60s with early onset dementia. “I do realize how lucky I am. Fred’s 88,” Klein reflected, also thankful for pensions and a home that’s paid for.
In quick interactions, her husband might appear as a lovely gentleman who is simply getting old, she said. His verbal skills are still there, but the retired graphic designer has memory and sequencing issues. Some days are better than others, and the “sundown” effect – named for the time of day when dementia often gets worse for sufferers – is real, Klein said.
The word “unfair” pops into her head often, but then again, she realizes that’s one of the defining characteristics of a pandemic that most adversely affects the vulnerable, in terms of both health and socioeconomics.
“There isn’t anything fair about any of this,” Klein said.
Monroe sees that reality as a reason for Normandale Center for Healing and Wholeness to keep reaching people, in whatever mode is required. “We’re needed now more than ever,” she said.