Stacey Whitten, Tricia Cummings, Miriam Pelletier, and Patricia Ramsey, facility owner. Image by Seacoastonline/Rich Beauchesne
The front doors to Edgewood Centre in Portsmouth are decorated with signs of support as a show of thanks to the staff of medical professionals and other health care workers caring for the elderly during the coronavirus pandemic. From left to right are: Stacey Whitten, Tricia Cummings, Miriam Pelletier, and Patricia Ramsey, facility owner.

Seacoast Online
By Hadley Barndollar

(Editor's Note: Joan Marchessault '00 earned her doctorate in educational leadership from UMass Lowell and now serves on the advisory board for the College of Education.)

PORTSMOUTH – Some staffers at the Edgewood Centre were brought to tears this week when a resident’s family members decorated the front doors of the facility – in a show of gratitude to the essential workers caring for the elderly during the coronavirus pandemic.

Cutout paper hearts were covered in handwritten messages thanking various departments at the South Street nursing home, and one large sign read, “thank you for caring for our loved ones.”

It was an act of love and support by New Castle resident Joan Marchessault and three generations of her family. Her 96-year-old mother is currently in hospice at the Edgewood Centre.

“I just can’t stress enough the tireless work that people who choose to work in these nursing homes provide for us,” said Marchessault, who hopes her gesture will start a “heart revolution” at other homes for the elderly.

The Edgewood Centre has approximately 100 residents and 250 employees, and specializes in rehab, skilled nursing and long-term care. It has had to end all family visitations as a result of the COVID-19 health emergency, and staffers have been working tirelessly “to prevent the virus from entering the facility,” said Patricia Cummings, Edgewood Centre administrator.

“To know how much our families appreciate the work that we’re doing, it was very touching but also very motivating for all of us,” she said of the surprise.

Cummings recognizes the stress many families are under being unable to visit their loved ones in nursing and assisted living homes right now, while simultaneously worrying about the virus possibly penetrating these facilities.

“It’s stressful on a good day for a family member to place someone in a nursing home, and certainly among a global pandemic, extremely troubling,” Cummings said. “However, our families have really been grateful for our efforts and enormously supportive, and they communicated that to us.”

Marchessault said the virus represents “us not being able to see my mother.”

“We can’t touch her, we can’t hold her, talk to her, brighten her day,” she said. “But there is an incredible group of health care providers and every department that Edgewood has that are caring for her, who go in and make her laugh and smile, make sure she’s not in pain.”

Staff at nursing homes are “a population we absolutely don’t want to forget,” she added. “Skilled and compassionate and caring.”

Cummings said there were tears, “happy tears,” when employees spotted the entrance decorations this week.

“When you’re in the middle of a crisis, and we all are in the world, to have someone who thought about you, to just say thank you, it just really meant a lot,” she said.

The facility has shifted to Facetime, Skype and Zoom meetings with family members, Cummings said, so residents can stay connected during this period of isolation.

“We have families that visit, in some cases, several times throughout the course of a day,” she said. “So the idea of not having that happen is a foreign concept for many. We’ve really eliminated almost anything coming into the building except staff.”

Cummings said the support staff have received from family members has made “all the difference in this terrible situation,” as the Edgewood Centre tries to keep life as normal as possible for its vulnerable residents.

The facility has been proactive in addressing COVID-19 internally, Cummings said, but is also keeping family members updated on its ongoing efforts to protect residents.

Cummings cited an incredible commitment by all Edgewood Centre staff and a “collective sentiment” in the Portsmouth community “that we want to protect our elders.”

Marchessault encouraged other community gestures as a show of thanks to these essential workers – write a note to your loved one’s nursing home, or put up hearts on their front door, she said.

“The minute we did it, we drove home and said, ‘Oh my gosh, I feel great,’” Marchessault said. “We can do a lot to make people feel better and get us through this.”