What HealthStar did on our "COVID Staycation"

Hello there – long time, no blog! During the last… well several weeks, the phrase “change is the only constant” has proven true time and again. We’ve experienced shortages of food, supplies, and probably patience, on a scale that Millenials and Gen X’ers, as well as any younger whipper-snappers, have never imagined. Looking out over a sea of masked shoppers, I feel so far away from the “normal” of 2019. Those days were far from perfect, but I mostly knew what to expect, and despite watching the weather to decide what I should wear, I didn’t need to watch the news to decide whether I should leave the house.

Change is the only constant in life
Heraclitus of Ephesus (500 BC)

Fast forward to today – in the midst of Minnesota beginning its transition back to normalcy, the tragic death of George Floyd brings, in its turbulent wake, a collective expression of both outrage and grief. The recent unrest has led to historical and modern reflection surrounding issues of race and injustice on both national and individual levels, inviting us to learn and grow, and plain and simple, to do better.

So, what are each of us learning now? What have you seen, heard or felt that has changed you or created a long-term impact in your own life?  In true blog fashion, I will be sharing with you some of my own personal growth moments, and I’ll share about how other HealthStar-ians have been engaging in this uncertain, heavy and unprecedented period of change.

Mask Makers Unite (around the sewing machine)

Starting with the “small stuff” – I have seen my mom and a TON of other people like her go above and beyond in response to the community’s need for protective face coverings of all kinds. Quilters, dressmakers, and home-based crafters alike have come out of the woodwork to save us all from airborne particulate. With so much confusion initially about when or when not to wear a mask, I’m glad that we seem to have finally settled on wearing what you can, as often as you can in public. Or at least, for the moment, that’s what I think we’re doing. It’s like butter – one minute it’s good for you, and the next, you should really be eating margarine. (please don’t eat margarine.)

Luckily, I have a few masks at home from my mom (thanks, ma!). HealthStar staff don’t all have moms who quilt, so our offices have been pulling together to purchase and distribute PPE, starting in areas with the most risk. And we can’t forget the most fun changes – HealthStar policies have been updated and re-published (thanks, Susan!), offices have been disinfected over and over again, and hand sanitizer has become the new “fragrance” worn by all of our staff. Eau de Purell, it’s all the rage.

Compassion and Community

Along with the masks and the ever-present scent of household cleaning products, the last few months have brought a roller-coaster of emotion. During COVID shutdown, loneliness and isolation threatened us all. But then, bright colored cut-out hearts popped up in windows and storefronts, boosting spirits for passers-by. The hearts represented solidarity, even when we were all hunkering down, alone, in our sanitized bunkers. In time, the weather improved, and people started gardening and hanging out together outside. Once again, family and friends gathered together. We smiled at each other and laughed at the same time again! People returned to offices and restaurants. I had to fill the gas tank. Ah, life.

Coming back together in the office hasn’t been a full “back to normal,” though. It’s a strange feeling now that we always have the “social distance” in mind – 6 feet away feels like a brick wall in this office, where our “work family” has grown about as close to genetic family as you can get. My signature move, the hallway high five, now seems reckless and risky. We’re all playing a bit of Russian roulette with our health, just to be present and keep the HealthStar wheels turning.

Into the Spotlight

Despite the COVID-induced changes, life felt generally tolerable again, if only for a moment, right before George Floyd’s murder. Soul-searching, gut-wrenching days followed after his death. Shock, horror, anger, and sadness rolled over Minnesota and the entire country. Powerless doesn’t begin to describe how I felt. The stages of grief washed over us all while together we watched the city burn. For many of us, this marks the most active period of civil unrest we’ve experienced. For me, it has been a period of self-examination. I’ve lived in Minnesota my whole life; what have I been missing?

History books and sociologists might call it social inequality. Today, we see and feel it as communities overflowing with both conflict and compassion. Minnesota, the “nice” state, has come into the spotlight as the nearly war-torn epicenter of a conversation that has been simmering for generations.

Minnesota Nice?

I personally feel ashamed that our state, My State, fell into the same unacceptable pattern of behavior that we’ve all seen in the news across history. I’m embarrassed that the country and the world are looking at Minnesota because of yet another inexcusable act. As a nation, we watched the actions of four Minneapolis police officers, and as a nation, we witnessed the tragic, unjustified death of George Floyd. These events have pushed Minnesota to the forefront of a larger collective conversation about racial justice.

Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.

Maya Angelou

For many of us, Minnesota has been a safe and meaningful community that we are proud to call home. Sadly, that same security and comfort are not shared by everyone. As a community, our responsibility is to create peace and justice for all, and to help all Minnesota residents gain the same sense of pride that we know can be achieved in our home state. 

Hopefully, this will be a wake-up call for many. Our “nice” state can, together, examine this deeper awareness of the inequality, intolerance, and prejudice that remain evident today. Today is the day that we all begin to participate in making our community and state a more equal and just home. How? We’ll have to figure that out together.

I Can’t Breathe

Identifying inequity is obviously not enough, because we’ve been down this road before. It feels like we have reached a crossroads as a nation. More and more groups are standing up and echoing the mantra, “I can’t breathe.” The truth is, for generations, our nation’s black community, as well as many other minority groups, have been struggling for breath. Some of us in “the majority” have been the knee on the neck. Some of us, though not as deliberately harmful, have been the “new officer,” too afraid to take action to stop what we know is wrong. And some of us have been standing in the wings, wishing that we could better understand the conflict, and passively hoping for a change that we just don’t know how to bring about ourselves.

Silence Speaks

The silence historically shared by our nation’s white majority is a great hurdle to overcome. The problem with silence is that, in the face of repeated unjustified acts by authority figures, silence sounds at best like tolerance, and at worst like agreement. We’ve all seen the openly brutal acts of law enforcement officers. What we can’t see is the history of invisible prejudice, the longstanding social and economic boundaries, and the silent consent of the many, which allows those in power to continue the pattern of behavior set in motion by our forefathers in a time that was so different from today. We can’t see the white privilege that keeps us quietly separated. We might be living in the same state, but Minnesota looks a lot different when we try to see it through George Floyd’s eyes.

Right now, we all have an opportunity to correct the silence. It’s time to step through the fear of “saying the wrong thing.” It’s time to examine our own thoughts, experiences, and history. Time to consider the meaning behind white privilege and racial inequality. It’s time for the majority to start a conversation and then listen instead of trying to find the right words ourselves. It’s time to stop worrying about saying the wrong thing, because silence is worse. Instead, together we can agree that we will no longer tolerate the status quo, and we can start to change by learning why the wrong thing to say might be wrong in the first place.

Where do we go from here?

Be the change that you wish to see in the world.

Mahatma Gandhi

My positivity deserted me when George Floyd was killed. I had already neglected the blog for a while because of all the changes during COVID, and then while the city burned and protesters grieved, I couldn’t post because I just didn’t have the energy to say anything worth saying. That silence, too, speaks volumes. When the awkward extrovert goes quiet, we all know something is very wrong. My heart just wasn’t up to writing. To call it a great sadness is an understatement. Humanity is sometimes so ugly and terrible that I wish to be anything else.

But my hopelessness and helplessness are slowly lifting. Why? It started with a text message from a co-worker, after she attended a peaceful protest with her family. Then, an email from our Inver Grove Heights office shared photos of staff members helping with the cleanup in Minneapolis. Those bright and beautiful blaze orange Sagrado Corazón shirts, worn by the amazing IGH staff, looked like the sun peeking up over a dark horizon! More recently, HS offices in St. Paul, IGH, and Corporate assembled and delivered supply packages to help community members in Minneapolis who, due to the recent destruction, have lost access to most basic household items.

We’re doing something. Maybe these small acts don’t fix the issue at the heart of this longstanding imbalance. The long history of inequality and generations of misunderstanding and misinformation will take more than just a few people coming together to rebuild. But we’re doing what we can do today, and this was enough to restore a little of my positive outlook. Together, we can do something. We can start the wheels in motion.

24ECCs Swooping In

HealthStar loves to rally behind a cause, especially when that means we get to shop! But we’re doing more than just buying and distributing necessities. The 24ECC program also continues to offer a common language for understanding and compassion. The ECCs teach us how to learn about each other without judging, and we take that knowledge with us into the community. Each employee here has a unique background of his or her own, and HealthStar’s 24ECC program is an opportunity for us to come together and learn from each other.

Kristel Kubis, RN at our Cloquet Office, makes the news!

Our 24ECC program brings us together to create a greater sense of community throughout our offices. The ECC meetings are a safe space to talk about different experiences and about how to overcome our own hidden judgments and prejudices. We are very lucky to have this language, as cheesy as it may sound.

Plenty of places talk about tolerance and acceptance. Tolerance and acceptance are not enough. At HealthStar, we seek out and celebrate our differences, because we know they make us better together than we could ever be as individuals. Opening a conversation and actively listening to people from different walks of life makes us a stronger agency and helps us grow a healthier community. Conversation is a small way to start, but at HealthStar, we know that small steps today can lead to big changes tomorrow!

Let’s Talk!

HealthStar staff each have an opportunity to enrich the community where we serve and live, just by sharing these 24ECCs. With a common language, and an open mind, we can start to unravel some of the tangled history that has both built up and torn this country down. Moving past silence into open conversation will help us expose the things that we continue to get wrong, and working together, we can rebuild a united and 24ECC-friendly community!

As much as we use the 24ECCs to build up our team, we also put the 24ECCs to great use in learning about our Clients. HealthStar looks to the community, and to Cultural leadership as well as Elders, for direction in developing programs and practices that can support the needs of multiple generations of home-based care recipients. As an agency, we serve many communities, and with the 24ECC program, we bring attentiveness, respect, and a genuine desire to learn about each of those communities from the members themselves.

Learning about You

Cultural and community-based knowledge help HealthStar to value and better understand people from all walks of life, but health care is also a very individualized service, which is designed one Client at a time. We can teach staff about what is special or unique about a certain culture, but we can’t teach them what’s special and unique about you without your help. To really create the best plan for you, and achieve your best outcome, HealthStar needs to know what makes you tick.

What’s important to you in a caregiver? How can we meet your needs the way that you need most? What makes you the most comfortable, and how can we add that to our routine? How will you measure success? Whether your caregiver is a family member or is trained and provided by HealthStar, our goal is the same: support health, independence and community involvement in the way that works best for each Client. All of our service lines rest on the foundations of dignity as well as accountability – when we can’t sleep, it’s because we are thinking about how we can do better for you tomorrow.

We might not be able to “fix” everything, but we know how to start small and grow from there. Let us help you find a starting point to meet your healthcare needs! We’d be honored to join in your wellness journey, creating a plan that’s designed to achieve your unique goals and give you the best outcome for your specific situation.

Do you or a family member need home-based care with a special appreciation for individuality and/or cultural tradition? Contact HealthStar today, we’d love to learn more about your situation and how we can best meet your needs together!

Clean Hands are Just the Beginning

Here’s something basic that we’ve been doing all our lives, but some of us might still not be “doing it right.” Basic hand washing is the best way to prevent the spread of most illnesses. That’s right, from the common cold to influenza to the most current COVID-19, all germs cower at the sight of soap suds and running water. Here’s the CDC-recommended handwashing technique to strike fear into the hearts of all those tricky germs.

  1. Wet your hands with clean, running water (warm or cold), turn off the tap, and apply soap.
  2. Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails.
  3. Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds. Need a timer? Hum the “Happy Birthday” song from beginning to end twice.
  4. Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.
  5. Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them.

But What About all that Hand Sanitizer?

If you don’t have access to soap and water, you can also use “an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol… Rub the gel over all the surfaces of your hands and fingers until your hands are dry. This should take around 20 seconds.” (https://www.cdc.gov/handwashing/when-how-handwashing.html)

The CDC does clarify, though, that hand washing, when possible, is still considered more effective than using hand sanitizer.

20 seconds… aren’t there better options than Happy Birthday?

So, maybe your favorite song isn’t Happy Birthday… I mean, it’s a happy and generally upbeat song, but the simple tune may not be everyone’s thing. There are plenty of other songs with about 20 seconds spent on the chorus. I can’t list all the options, but my favorite choice is the chorus to “Stayin’ Alive” by the Bee Gees.

During these uncertain times, when people are more concerned about health than ever before, it seems like an appropriate anthem. And if you need one more reason – the tempo is also said to be the right beat for performing CPR. The Bee Gees probably didn’t realize at the time they wrote the song that it would end up providing such a wonderful and critical public service!

Whether you’re a brother or whether you’re a mother

You’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Feel the city breakin’ and everybody shakin’

And we’re stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive

Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive

Bee Gees – Stayin’ Alive

Hand Washing Break

All this talk about washing hands makes me want to wash my hands. Join me in a 20 second hand-washing break?

Aaaaaaaaand we’re back.

If you remember only one thing from this post, may it be this, a quote from my 6-year old daughter about hand-washing. “I only used my left hand, so I don’t need to wash my right.”

If only that were the way things work. But please wash them both, no matter which one you use the most. 🙂

Stick Together… Separately…?

Aside from basic hygiene – there is more that we can do to keep each other healthy. If you’re able to do so safely, please watch out for your neighbors. Not everyone has an easy time of getting supplies. You might offer to pick up prescriptions or grocery items for those near you who may be in need of assistance.

If you’re in a position to help others in the greater community during the coming days and weeks, there are plenty of opportunities to pitch in. For example, food pantries are experiencing difficulty in keeping up with supplies and volunteers. Here’s one news story with details, if you’re interested and live in the metro area. If we stick together (while still being cautious), we can all get through this as a community.

All of HealthStar sends you and your family wishes for good health during this trying time. Together, we can stay healthy and keep our community strong!