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Challenging Responsibility

Interview with Amy Koehnen of Ebenezer Senior Living, Part One

Editors note: When this article was first published online we incorrectly stated that if you are unvaccinated you can work at Ebenezer. This error has been corrected.

By DWIGHT HOBBES

The corona virus contagion threw South Minneapolis businesses for a loop.  Those that haven’t closed are fighting to hold on.  On top of which the highly contagious Omicron variant continues spreading across the country, eclipsing those fueled by the Delta variant over last summer: businesses are  far from full strength.  “There are many places in the country where hospitalizations now are increasing,” Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told CNN in December.  As of January, the rate of infections in Hennepin County is “very high”, according to the New York Times.

Ebenezer shoulders the unenviable responsibility to not only stay in business – after all, the bottom line is the bottom line – but continue providing invaluable human services, for tenants and residents the most  highly at risk Ebenezer Park Apartments and Ebenezer Tower Apartments (senior housing), Ebenezer Loren On Park (assisted living) and Ebenezer Care Center (nursing home). As of January 6, Ebenezer complies with the City of Minneapolis’ reinstated mask mandate.  On top of which, if you’re not vaccinated, you can’t work at Ebenezer.  Amy Koehnen, Minneapolis Campus Administrator spoke with The Alley about meeting the challenges these past couple years.

Yours is no easy job.

It isn’t. But, I have  experience. Twenty-seven years in the profession, doing this type of work.

For good measure, you oversee a fifth site.

The University of Minnesota Transitional Care Unit. It is on the west bank and is connected to the Acute Rehab also at the University of Minnesota. It is licensed as a skilled nursing facility so I am the administrator of record. Although they do have someone that manages the day to day operations. 

Since the contagion struck in March 2020, I guess you’ve had to pitch in and wear different hats.

I’ve thought about that a lot. I should have a hat rack in my office

You haven’t just sat in your office.  You’ve been hands on.

I keep my fingers in quite a bit.  From the beginning Ebenezer staff have [been conscientious]. From the top.  John Lundberg, CEO, and leaders around the organization put in calls to all the [sites] 7 days a week for 6 months.  They passed on information and policy and we would [disseminate] it to the sites.

So, your watchword is professionalism and you take that personally.

It’s as much an avocation as a vocation for me.  

With the onset of the contagion, what was your important challenge to meet for the safety of tenants and clients?

The first order of business was to utilize proper PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), keep people [six feet] apart and look for signs and symptoms of the illness.  And then start testing people to see if they had [it].    We were, first, vigilant on “Is anyone sick and everybody needs to stay away from each other.” So, we kept their families out, kept them in their apartments and in their rooms.  We wore masks, shields and gowns and all that, which we still have.  The priority was to explain to staff and residents how serious it is and have them comply with necessary precautions.

You also make it clear Ebenezer is not just a business operation covering its back with rules.  There’s a humanizing touch with staff actually caring about people.

Exactly. The nursing home and assisted living residence have strict measures.  At Ebenezer Park and Ebenezer Tower, we’re just the landlord.  HUD, [which] regulates landlord-tenant relationships, did not [provide oversight] Jennifer Rutschke, the Park  executive director and her team have instituted some measures that are stricter than what we might expect from the government.  They weren’t forced to do it, but they did because they care about the tenants. 

How did you make sure the caring attitude and approach was in place at all the facilities?  For instance those nursing home residents not feeling they’d been warehoused?

When we first shut down, nobody did anything and no one went anywhere.  Although it’s necessary to keep people safe, isolation isn’t good for people emotionally, mentally, spiritually, or socially. Over time we became creative and reached a balance.  At some point we realized we were telling visitors that they were breaking rules by giving their mom a hug.  This was tough.  We’ve learned to weigh being vigilant against the disease and also being conscious about being human, the need for human connection.  It’s not easy.  It’s a balance.  But, that’s what you need to do.

Part Two of Challenging Responsibility will continue to look at the ever-changing response to COVID-19 as the virus continues to evolve.

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