The Brighter Side

Three months after Hurricane Maria, many of the workers who care for Puerto Rico’s seniors still don’t have power or running water at home. But day after day, they show up to find food, clean facilities and care for long-term care and senior living residents who have nowhere else to go.

LeadingAge members and executives of other organizations that care for seniors trekked to the island last month, delivering cash to help the facilities and the employees who responded to an “immediate and boundless call to action.”

“Only one staff person interviewed had power restored to their home, yet — here they were — putting the needs of their residents before their own,” LeadingAge Vice President for State Partnerships Nancy Hooks told McKnight’s. The visit was “a simple, but heartfelt effort to show that they are appreciated and not forgotten,” Hooks added.

Among the employees she and others praised was Anibal Torres, a maintenance worker at Torre Jesus Sanchez Erasa, whose bond with residents was palpable. He has worked at the facility for years and stayed onsite for 40-plus hours after the storm hit, carrying residents up and down stairs when they needed to move.

Other employees relocated from homes they share with their own young families to provide more round-the-clock staffing in light of still sub-par conditions.

During a four-day trip, the mainland reps delivered over $100,000 in donations raised by communities, staff and state partner, part of an ongoing effort to reach facilities impacted by a rash of natural disasters in 2017.

LeadingAge board member Roberto Muñiz, CEO of New Jersey’s Parker chain, grew up in Puerto Rico and still has family there. His company matched nearly $14,000 raised by residents.

Hooks said there is still much work to do. Some facilities have already begun conducting “autopsies” to shore up emergency plans for the next crisis, and others are looking for ways to support residents and staff members who have endured the emotional wave that Maria wrought.