Josie Pezzullo: Enriching the Lives of Older Adults

When the call went out to recruit other team members to assist as caregivers at UMRC’s Kresge Healthcare and Rehabilitation Center (Kresge Center), the answer came easily for its Life Enrichment coordinator, Josie Pezzullo.

“Since I know the residents so well, I felt I was a good candidate for it and that it might be a little easier for me to step in and help,” says Josie. “Our caregiving and life enrichment teams already work together very closely. I wanted to be a team player because it makes it easier for everyone when you know you can rely on someone to help. It really helps the residents the more the staff has support.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact not only on older adults, but on our care team members as well who have needed to be off work due to their own illness or that of a family member.

On March 31, the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a temporary waiver of current CNA training requirements to fill gaps in direct-care staffing during this crisis, explains Missi Latter, Vice President of Quality and Compliance for UMRC & Porter Hills. “We were able to utilize both online and on-site skills training, pairing them with experienced care team members at Kresge Center, to bring our new recruits up-to-speed to assist with providing support to our skilled nursing residents.”

Josie, who engages with residents during the day in her role as life enrichment coordinator, had the opportunity to assist with some evening shifts. “It was really interesting to see the dynamic of the evening shift, and it gave me a better overall perspective of what our residents’ entire day is like,” Josie shares.

Josie says the caregiver training will help in her life enrichment role so she can better assist with residents’ needs during activities. “Once we get back to normal, whatever that may look like, I look forward to being able to make less work for our caregiving team members,” says Josie.“For example, instead of having to find a CNA to help a resident during a group activity, I will be able to take care of that person myself and be less disruptive to the flow of what we’re doing.  It feels like a natural extension to my current work.”

Josie says that the hardest thing now during COVID-19 is not being able to have group activities and opportunities for residents to socialize. “Being creative is a challenge,” says Josie. “We have to be creative in thinking of activities residents can do in their rooms, how can we keep them happy, smiling, and engaged. We’re also helping residents stay in touch with their families through use of FaceTime and iPads. Our caregiving teams are taking on many of the life enrichment activities to limit potential exposure to our residents.”

As Josie says, “You can’t have happy residents without happy staff. The positive attitudes that everyone has kept through all of this has made all the difference for our residents.”

Josie’s experience has given her a new appreciation of the work that caregivers do, “with loving guidance,” as she puts it, to care for the older adults who call Kresge Center home. “It’s definitely not for everyone,” says Josie. “It’s physically and emotionally hard work, and it takes a special person to want to do that work and to do it well. I’m really impressed with and proud of our team.”