Otterbein recognizes work of staff, sacrifice of families

Otterbein Franklin SeniorLife Community on Thursday remembered 26 residents lost to COVID-19, and publicly thanked the health care workers who were there for them in their final moments and helped contain the virus.

The Franklin senior care facility was the first in Johnson County to report a COVID-19 outbreak, and was the first Otterbein facility to have one, said Jill Wilson, Otterbein CEO. Those on the frontlines in Franklin developed a plan to contain the virus that was used to protect residents across all 20 of the company’s facilities, she said.

“What we were able to do is learn from this team what they were able to experience and, very quickly, to apply that knowledge and turn it into what we call the ‘Otterbein Offensive,’ which was a proactive approach at managing and reducing the spread of the virus,” Wilson said.

Across the 20 facilities, Otterbein has had 1,226 cases, with 40% of those among residents, and 72 deaths, all residents, she said.

In Franklin, 26 residents died from COVID-19 and 77 were diagnosed with COVID-19, according to data reported to the Indiana Department of Health.

Among Franklin staff, there were 56 cases and no deaths, IDH data shows.

The staff adapted to information about the novel virus that changed daily and did so in service of residents and at risk to their own safety. They put up a COVID-19 unit to isolate infected residents, developed a plan to contain the virus on the fly, said Anji Sullivan, an Otterbein Franklin administrator.

The local team worked closely with the Johnson County Health Department, Johnson Memorial Hospital and first responders throughout the pandemic, Sullivan said.

With residents isolated from their loved ones, the staff also had to get creative to make sure residents remained connected to their families through technology and window visits, she said.

Executive Director Rob Newcomer recalled a scene in which an employee sat with a dying resident. The employee held hands with the resident, and held the resident’s hand up to the glass so their family members could come as close as possible one last time.

Through all the disease and uncertainty, moments like that showed the positive side to the pandemic, and provided proof that love and kindness can shine through in the toughest moments, Newcomer said.

“All of this past year was difficult, challenging and complicated in so many ways. But the positives that came out of these experiences far outnumber the difficulties,” Newcomer said. “There’s no better way to say this but: we saw God’s love. We saw people taking care of people.”

To Otterbein employees, who were declared “health care Heroes,” getting residents through the pandemic was about much more than a paycheck.

“This team went way, way above and beyond in taking care of the people they serve at a time when they needed them more than they ever did,” Wilson said. “They didn’t just do their work. It wasn’t about work. It was about love, kindness, caring and compassion — that’s how they did their work.”

The heroes also got a thank-you from Mayor Steve Barnett, who issued a proclamation in remembrance of lost residents and the hard work of employees.

“I’m thankful for community partners like Otterbein that stepped up when COVID-19 threw us all a curveball,” Barnett said.

At the ceremony Thursday, 20 families gathered to celebrate those who were lost and the efforts of Otterbein employees to care for their family members in sickness and health.

The name of each person who passed away at Otterbein Franklin was read aloud and the sound of a bell rang out in remembrance. The name of each person was also printed on Bibles, which were gifted to families.

Bill Goley lost his 92-year-old mother, Norma Goley, to COVID-19 on May 7, 2020.

When Goley last saw her in person on Feb. 17, 2020, he never imagined it would be the last time they touched. They were able to talk over the phone during the lockdown, but since his mother had dementia, it was hard to connect that way, he said.

Goley’s last interaction with his mother was singing a song together on a call. For some reason his wife, Betty Goley, thought to record that moment. Now they have one last good memory to look back on.

“The hardest part was not being able to see her when she passed away,” Goley said.

It was hard to lose his mother that way, but Otterbein staff did all they could to protect residents, he said.

“This was new to everybody. You can’t place any blame. We were taken by surprise,” Goley said. “My hat’s off to everyone who took care of them.”