By Curtis Simmons

Love Thy Neighbor: Caring for the Elderly During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Tips and Resources for Churches

The Biblical directive is crystal clear, our top priority is to love and care for our neighbor, especially in times of crisis. But how does the church comply with both God’s directive and the directive of their local government for social distancing and self-isolation? And more importantly, how can you care for the most vulnerable group, the elderly? (Source)

With more than 50 million Americans between the ages of 65 and 84, this is a call to arms. The majority of this group is single. Those living alone face the greatest difficulty in self-isolating. Those living with their children or in group homes face the greatest risk of exposure. Surprisingly, “older adults” is defined by infectious disease experts as anyone age 60 and up, expanding the number of high-risk individuals even more.

What specifically can the church do as a whole, and what can you do as an individual, to help your elderly neighbors during this time of need?

 

3 Vital Guidelines for Churches

Many churches have temporarily closed their doors out of an abundance of caution or under the direction of local authorities. In caring for our elderly, we’re also helping our communities at large. We’re allowing more people to stay home where they’re safest, which also helps to flatten the curve of COVID-19 transmission.

But if their basic needs aren’t met—including comfort and connection—panic may drive isolated individuals to unnecessarily inundate medical facilities preparing for a deluge of potential coronavirus patients.

Fortunately, technology allows us to help in many ways without risk of exposure or transmission. Let’s use it to its fullest extent!

1. Encourage self-isolation

With churches wisely moving to streaming services (helpful tips), there is a tendency for groups to gather for watch parties. Some people still feel safe meeting up for coffee, playdates and home Bible studies because they’re not “mass gatherings.”

We know you want to combat spiritual isolation, but this is not a snow day. Many in your healthy population care for their own elderly and need to stay a safe distance away from each other (3-6 feet) and in groups of 10 people or less. If you ask group leaders to host a small gathering, they may feel compelled to go against their better judgment. Don’t put them in this position!

2. Step up communication

Now, more than ever, it’s imperative that your church establishes a system to regularly contact everyone, to ensure that no one falls through the cracks. Start by using phone, email, text or social media to find out who is willing/able to help and who needs help. Establish a virtual “critical incident command center” to facilitate the meeting of needs.

The elderly need reassurance at a time of isolation and panic almost as much as they need help with groceries and medicine. That means your most-needed volunteer roles are for delivering essentials and making regular support phone calls. During these calls, the elderly should be encouraged to postpone annual dentist or doctor visits if they feel otherwise well. They can be assisted in how to use telehealth tools if they do not. (Source)

2. Equip members to help their neighbors and each other

This crisis is the ideal time for believers to rise up and bridge the isolation that has been occurring in America’s neighborhoods for years. Across the world, communities are coming together to support one another.

Equip your members to make a difference in their neighborhoods. A simple form like this one is being used around the world to make it safer for people to help their elderly or otherwise at-risk neighbors. Download it and make it available to your healthy members to tuck into their neighbors’ doors or mail to them.

Remind volunteers of these established, stay-healthy tips:

  • Wash hands frequently for 20-30 seconds (especially after touching groceries, mail or any public surface)
  • Use hand sanitizer as often as possible (here’s a DIY recipe)
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Avoid physical contact with others (maintain 6-foot distance)
  • Provide updated advice they can share with vulnerable individuals (such as these tips for those who are age 60+ and for those struggling with coronavirus anxiety)

Cautious compassion is the greatest gift we can offer at this time. May the church be a beacon in these uncertain times.

Whether your church has closed or is still open, these additional urgent tips can help.

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