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Muriel J. Smith

In addition to being a professional writer, newspaper reporter and book author, I am a volunteer certified by the state of New Jersey as a patient advocate. As such, I visit two different care centers, talk with the residents, learn if they have any complaints and try to resolve them, usually very successfully.

This week, for the first time since February, I was permitted to visit Care One at King James where I have been the advocate for nearly five years.  Permission came after I tested negative for Covid, scrubbed my hands, had my temperature taken and was given a time limit in which to visit.

It gave me an entirely new respect for the resiliency of the employees and their love and concern for the men and women in their care.

The visit brought me to tears, as I realized some of my friends from a couple of months ago are no longer with us, perhaps some from Covid, perhaps some from their anticipated natural death, perhaps some from other causes.

But then I talked with the residents who are there and my tears turned to smiles, sometimes laughter, sometimes outright glee and appreciation for the likes of the Karens, the Kittys, the Aarons, the Jeffs, and everyone else from the administrator through the parttime aide who have cared so livingly for these residents.

When I asked Karen how she got through a day and went home without crying, she said, “I know I’ve done the best I could do. I can’t cry, I know I”ve helped someone.” When I asked Kitty how she could joke and laugh all day, she told me  “that’s the medicine my residents want and need. They’re very special, you know.”

I got the same response from each of the employees, the ones stripping and making beds, the ones spending some time just chatting with a resident, the ones scrubbing the floors and making sure the dispensers for hand washing were full.  Make no mistake about it. The employees at King James always love their residents.

Then I spoke with the residents. I couldn’t have been happier.  All were delighted to see me, some chiding me for not being there so long, others good naturedly asking if I had forgotten them. Each had his own story to tell……how games and recreation were at a minimum for awhile, but are now on the way back; how much fun Hall Bingo can be, what it felt like to have a recreation aide trim their hair or polish their nails. There wasn’t a single complaint about the food nor the service. There were many comments on the beauty of the outdoors, the birds they see at the window, the occasional flower that bloomed, the colors of the leaves in the trees.  New residents whom I had never met said how happy they were and how welcomed they felt;  seasoned residents, some there for years, told me their rooms had been changed, but they liked their new roommate, or liked the opportunity to be alone.

I’ve known King James since before it was built. I was there when Jim Snyder and King Westerlind put the spade in the ground to officially open the brand new facility. I was there for all of Duke Black’s years of administration as well as when both he and his wife were residents there before their own deaths. I’ve been there through the several administrators since that time up to and including current administrator Megan Yorke who was assigned here just prior to the Covid pandemic. It’s always been a sparkling clean facility, always offered a varied menu of both hot and cold meals, and always  had a recreation staff eager to come up with new ideas for the residents….from  to Janice to Cathy to Karen.

But now, under the pandemic that has changed the world for everyone, the King James appears to have taken on a sparkling new glow, a shimmer and shine that reflects the happiness and secure feeling of the residents, the concern and professionalism of the staff, and proof of the idea that tackling a major problem, working together, caring passionately for each other and accepting that at least for today, each has done his best.

I felt so much better after my first visit in months.

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