Our Gerontology Alumni Making A Difference

On Friday, April 10, 2020 we asked Miami University Gerontology Alumni to tell us about the roles they played (paid or volunteer, large or small) to make a positive difference during the Covid-19 crisis. Following are their inspirational responses. 

Tirth Bhatta, MGS ‘10

We are administering a survey that aims to understand how adults 50 years and older are affected by and coping with coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 pandemic. Older Adults, and those with pre-existing medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease) appear to be more vulnerable to becoming severely ill with the virus. To understand stress and coping strategies older adults utilize during the coronavirus pandemic is vital in an effort to introduce healthier coping skills and ultimately help to save lives.

This research project is headed by Dr. Nirmala Lekhak at University of Nevada Las Vegas in collaboration with Dr. Tirth Bhatta (UNLV, Department of Sociology) and Dr. Tim Goler (Norfolk State University, Department of Sociology).

We welcome individuals who are living in the United States and are 50 years and older to participate in this study by using the following link.

Survey Link: https://unlv.co1.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_0I17he1kGO4VC2p

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/StudyCorona/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StudyCorona

Please email Dr. Nirmala Lekhak at nirmala.lekhak@unlv.edu or message us through our page for any questions or information.

Dawn Carr, PhD ‘09

I’m primarily doing work by communicating with the media about the implications of social isolation for older people.

I did an interview with the NY Times:

Our local NPR station:

And for state level news:

And I am a consultant for Mars Petcare and we wrote a piece recently about pets and older people:

Rebecca Hart Cash, MGS ‘11

I am currently working as an RN at a hospital in a critical care unit in SC. I have been a nurse for a little over three years and I have never experienced anything like this pandemic. It has brought a lot of changes within the hospital and things are constantly changing. Wearing a mask for 12 plus hours a day and always being concerned that my patient may test positive have been the biggest challenges. Having to comfort family members on the phone who can’t come visit their loved ones has also been a learning experience. Overall, being on the frontline has been a really rewarding experience and has further solidified that I am exactly in the career I am supposed to be in.

Ashlee Cordell, MGS ‘20

I received a call from the director of the care facility where I volunteered in high school asking if I happened to be back in the Cleveland area. They were in need of an immediate hire. So I recently took on a full-time job as an Activities Coordinator in addition to my other contract work. As you can imagine, many facilities are short staffed right now. So not only am I working on providing meaningful activities to residents in creative ways, but I also assist with running the reception desk, screening employees at shift changes, and passing food trays at mealtimes.

Joe DeVore, MGS ‘88

This has been the most difficult and stressful time in my 32 year career. The first thing we did at Plymouth Harbor was start screening people before they entered any of our buildings, including independent areas. We did this very early on and got pushback on all sides, but we remained firm and then rapidly shut down group gatherings. When you go into the independent areas it is shocking to see no one while also knowing there are over 200 residents in this same area. Once we had social distancing in place we worked hard to find any way possible to engage residents without them actually being together in person. We came up with a number of activities that have been key for communications and we have received nice response to these from family and other constituents.  You can see an example (“setting sail”) at our website www.plymouthharbor.org.

The other side of the story is keeping staff safe and strong. Since meetings have been greatly reduced there are more opportunity to talk with staff individually. For many you can feel the anxiety and yet know they appreciate how they are being treated, and how good they feel about having a job. We have been able to have a workable amount of PPE. A current staff member, a retired staff member, and the mother of one of our staff have been making masks for us out of surgical curtains and our mesh gowns. 

It is an ongoing process, but I am pleased to say that we have not had a positive COVID-19 case so far.

Carrie (Griffin) Graham, MGS '95

I have been working as a policy consultant to the California Department of Aging. Originally I was consulting on Governor Newsom’s Master Plan for Aging. But when COVID-19 hit California, we pivoted to full time COVID Response. I have been advising the state on policies around LTC facilities, analyzing and summarizing data on vulnerable groups of seniors in California, and moderating weekly “Caregiver Check in Calls” on topics ranging from caregiving for someone in your home, caring for someone in senior living during COVID, advanced care planning, and Grief and Loss during COVID-19. These caregiver check in calls are available on www.engageca.org We hope to be pivoting back to the Master Plan for Aging very soon.

Amanda Hamilton, BA '12  

I work as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman in Kentucky.  Another ombudsman and I have been doing Lunch and Learn webinars for families in our region during the COVID-19 pandemic. The webinars are recorded and available on our website  http://www.lablaw.org/ltco-program

Jessie (LaCasse) Helman, MGS ‘04

I am currently working on the frontline as a Cardiac Sonographer at UP Health System Marquette, Michigan. As an echo tech I am responsible for performing cardiac ultrasound on inpatients, outpatients and babies in the NICU. We perform echoes on patients who are being tested for COVID-19 and for patient's that have tested positive. It is a very scary time at work!! My job gives me the pleasure of working with many older adults who may be scared or confused. I am grateful for my training in Gerontology and have conducted mini inservices to help others provide better care to an aging population.

Jennifer Heston-Mullins, PhD ‘17

I’ve become engaged with the National Nursing Home Social Work Network, which is gathering resources for nursing home social workers and making them available through their listserv and website https://clas.uiowa.edu/socialwork/nursing-home/national-nursing-home-social-work-network. In addition, we have initiated weekly virtual support groups for nursing home social workers. I’m serving as chair of the “Resources to Support Yourself and Your Staff” committee.

Diane Deitzer Kloenne, MGS ‘91

I have worked as a licensed nursing home administrator since my graduation. Most recently I am the Executive Director of Artis Senior Living of Mason, a memory care assisted living community. This has by far been the most challenging time! It is so hard that the families are unable to visit their loved ones. We are utilizing FaceTime, window visits, social media posts and individual e-mails to try to keep families connected. Plus the hunt for personal protective equipment (PPE) to protect our staff is exhausting. I am most impressed with our staff who continues to come take care of our elders, despite day care and financial challenges and also knowing the possible exposure to the illness. 

Sherry Lind, MGS ‘15

During the shutdown I am continuing to deliver Meals on Wheels to the Oxford Seniors clientele in the Okeana/Morgan Township area. We are delivering up to 7-days’ worth of frozen meals to each client depending on their need. We are also delivering shelf stable meals when we are directed to do so by Council on Aging. Additionally, working with the Housing Advisory Commission for the City of Oxford as well as Age Friendly Oxford, we continue our work to bring affordable housing to the area as soon as possible.

Like Lokon, MGS ‘08

I mailed 51 letters to OMA participants and staff members at Cedar Village and The Knolls of Oxford. In these individual envelopes (with stamp stickers), I included a piece of original OMA art, a photo of me and Brad (so they know who sent them the letter) and the poem below, plus a brief text about missing doing OMA with them.

I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud (“Daffodils”)
by William Wordsworth

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Emily Lubin, BA ‘11

At LeadingAge we are doing a lot of work to support our members around research, policy, and education. I am working on education- currently we are releasing at least one online learning product a week on a variety of issues that we are hearing from our members. You can view them here:

David Mancuso, MGS ‘99

My company, Troon Technologies is currently developing a COVID-19 Health Passport using the Blockchain and our proprietary Digital Identity technology, plus our telehealth platform. We are focusing on the remote Indigenous communities throughout Canada who are being hit very hard.

Sunaina Rana, MGS '16

I have been working as a critical care RN in Cardiothoracic Vascular ICU (CVICU) in Richmond, Virginia for the past 3 years. Now the unit has been changed to a designated COVID-19 unit, where we admit all rule outs and COVID-19 positive patients. We have 12 ICU beds and 10 stepdown beds. Working with these patients has been challenging for various reasons. The patients in ICU are very sick. Most require high oxygen supplements and external supports to help them breathe so they have breathing tubes and are put on ventilators or air pressure machines (BiPAP/CPAP/High flow). Most of them are on several medications to maintain their blood pressure and sedation to keep them comfortable while they are intubated. These patients' condition deteriorates within hours very significantly. Some need to be placed on proning position (sleep on their stomach to use less utilized part of the lungs for better oxygenation), some patients need more support from the machine called ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) - very limited machines. As complicated as it sounds, these patients keep struggling by themselves since there is a no visitors policy. With the help of facetime and phone calls, we have been trying our best to keep these patients connected with their families. Technology plays a very important role in managing care of these patients.

Working as a charge nurse in this unit adds more responsibility. As a charge nurse I focus on protecting my fellow nurses; make sure they have proper PPEs, communicate with physicians and other multidisciplinary team (respiratory therapists, lab technicians, radiology, dietary, physical therapists, hospice care and palliative nurses), cover for their patients as they take lunch breaks and be a resource if they need any additional help. Taking care of these patients has been physically and mentally taxing. We have seen patients die alone, and their family cannot visit because their families are also on quarantine at their homes. This is heartbreaking but we try our best to keep them comfortable and hold their hands so that they are not alone. During this uncertain time, the patients and families have been very understanding. The patients can only see our eyes and hear our voices yet they trust our care and health care system. The families have been sponsoring us food and donating masks to help us take care of their beloved ones.

Many of our nurses have sent their families away so that they don't catch any infection from us. Some of them caught it already and are at home on quarantine. Few of them are hospitalized. All of us are dehydrated and hypoxic as we wear masks for a straight 12-hour shift. But, we go to work, provide the best nursing care and the most rewarding experience is when we discharge COVID-19 patients home or rehabilitation center once they are treated.

We are all in this together and contributing by staying home, maintaining social distance, being a frontliner health care worker or by supporting each other.

Victoria Windus Russo, MGS ‘87

Since you mentioned small things I thought I would share. In collaboration with the Jr. League Chicago, I call 20 isolated older adults to check on them and provide a little social opportunity.

Phil Sauer, MGS ‘11

As the Manager of Population Analytics at CareSource, I have been leading the COVID-19 analytic response via the creation of an interactive Power BI dashboard that features population risk profiles, projected cost and utilization impact scenarios, as well as a CareSource-adjusted version of the IHME (University of Washington) coronavirus projection model (e.g., hospitalizations, ICU, mortality). I have presented this dashboard to stakeholders at ODM and CMS. As an Oxford townie, I have taken on the weekly shopping for my septuagenarian neighbor since her adult kids live out-of-state.

Karisha Wilcox Solomon, MGS ‘08

I work as the Executive Director for a not for profit organization called Community Resources for Independent Seniors (CRIS). For the past 10 years we have provided information, referrals and services to seniors in the Cazenovia, Fenner and Nelson areas. We are living our mission of providing these supportive services to help keep seniors active and engaged and assisting them with aging in place. We have continued to do what we do best but now we have adjusted to meet the new needs of our most vulnerable population.

We have adjusted our services by working remotely. We have teamed up with our local government officials, businesses and other organizations to meet the new needs in our community. We created a CAZCOVID Response Team. Our office now is being used as the hub for the CazCOVID Response team members to utilize for a call center, drop off and meeting location since many businesses are closed. We are considered an essential worker. A designated CAZCOVID Response Team webpage was created for the community to be the nexus of accurate information from what restaurants are delivering food, where to get tested for COVID 19, how to volunteer and ways to bring a little sunshine into a neighbor’s life.

We are continuing to be a community but just in a different way.

  • Our information and referral services continue by having a phone line that has a response within 24 hours.
  • We created a COVID webpage dedicated just to providing up to date accurate information for seniors. cris-caz.com/covid
  • We continue to offer our medical transportation to seniors who have critical medical needs.
  • Our volunteer coordinator has adjusted in person exchanges through our Timebank program to serving those members remotely or at a safe distance. The talents and skills of the members are being utilized to teach how to use zoom, fixing audio issues on computers, connecting people with materials to donate to people willing to sew masks and isolation gowns.
  • We are meeting our seniors needs today with free face masks, isolation gowns for the health care workers in nursing homes, food and medication deliver and transportation but we are also planning for the long haul.
  • We are planning ways to sustain healthy foods in the home with a seed starter program, combating isolation and depression with zoom meet ups so friends can still have lunch together and linking our seniors to online museum tours, book recommendations, online senior exercise programs and check in calls for those that just want to talk.
  • We also have converted our in-person 5 wishes program to be able to be done over the phone or in zoom to help those seniors have their end of life wishes written down and fulfilled if need be.
  • Community Resources for Independent Seniors is providing resources, but we are also providing peace of mind.

Scott Suzuki, GTY Minor ‘00

I live in Honolulu, Hawaii, and have a law practice that emphasizes elder law and special needs planning. I also teach the elder law clinic at the University of Hawaii law school. Distance learning for the students has been a pretty easy transition, but meeting with our "kupuna" has become more complicated. We continue to address our clients’ needs through creative lawyering. As an example, we developed the State's first locally-operated pooled benefits trust, allowing anyone to implement an estate plan, long-term care plan, special needs plan, (almost) instantaneously and remotely. Probably far from what you were looking for, but perhaps of interest.

Becky Utz, MGS ‘99

I channeled my COVID anxiety and angst into an editorial for our local paper. It recognizes family caregivers as the invisible healthcare workforce in the face of COVID.

Teresa VanCauwenberg, BA ’19

I have been working in a Dementia Clinic for about 7 months. My dad works in the same hospital as the clinic. I am not an essential worker but my coworkers are. Due to the limited masks in the community my mom and I have been sewing masks for the workers, their families, and low risk patients. For the Dementia Clinic I had the opportunity to make the masks in the clinic colors - purple and orange! I hate being away from work but I love getting to help in any way I can.

Ken Wilson, MGS ‘95

I have been working on pandemic response 24/7 for weeks. The major roles I have been working on include food supply chain and delivery issues, organizing community efforts at getting food boxes, and meals out to seniors for a huge surge. I have also been working with the Health Collaborative and Hospital system on setting up the infrastructure and process for discharging seniors with COVID-19 to home from the hospital, SNF or Duke Convention center overflow, and setting up the services needed for a safe discharge and recovery.

Lots of work on guidance to LTSS providers to keep their workforce safe, and preventing the spread to seniors while maintaining service levels.

This week, we had the added problem of senior buildings that were on lockdown for COVID-19 residents that lost power for over 24 hours from the storms that came thru. We delivered meals, flashlights, and ice to seniors in four buildings.

Taka Yamashita,  PhD '11

Gerontology alum Phyllis Cummins, PhD '13  and I were interviewed by the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education. We provided our opinions and shared our research findings that are relevant to the COVID-19 epidemic, education, literacy, and health information. LINK: https://ies.ed.gov/blogs/research/post/real-world-responses-in-real-time-social-inequality-in-access-to-covid-19-information  
Our graduate students in the UMB/UMBC Gerontology program and I are contributing to our UMBC Center for Social Science Scholarship's COVID-19 response page. https://socialscience.umbc.edu/aging-health-covid19/ To date, we have provided a short discussion video and research brief. These are simple but important messages to our communities. We are planning to add more content that could be useful.