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WEAVR connects retired nurses to overwhelmed health care facilities

St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna now has three volunteers from the registry.
Published: Nov. 18, 2020 at 11:26 PM CST
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KAUKAUNA, Wis. (WBAY) - A report released Thursday by the National Center for Assisted Living links community spread of COVID-19 to nearly half of new cases in nursing homes in the Midwest.

Not only is that impacting the elderly, but it’s contributing to staffing shortages at nursing homes, and other health care facilities.

When the pandemic caused St. Paul Elder Services to close its doors to visitors, Lynn Kastner saw the impact it had on her mother, who has been at the facility for four years.

“My mom is 92 and she has Parkinson’s. I feel like the isolation was not helping and she was beginning to get worse,” said Kastner.

She’s a former registered nurse and found a way to continue to help her mother through the Wisconsin Emergency Assistance Volunteer Registry or WEAVR.

It’s a statewide database of retired health care professionals willing to volunteer their skills to help fill staffing gaps during a declared emergency.

She learned about it from Sondra Norder, President/CEO of St. Paul Elder Services.

The nursing home now has three volunteers from the registry.

“It’s something that we’re really promoting, especially for family members or loved ones who might have a background in health care,” said Norder.

The volunteers are being used as general caregivers to balance staffing shortages already present before the pandemic.

“Just because you are a retired RN, doesn’t mean that we’re going to throw you on the floor and have you start doing IVs...we could use you in more basic kinds of ways,” said Norder.

For Kastner, the volunteer opportunity is helping fulfill her mother’s basic needs.

“I’m usually with my mom for at least an hour or two to make sure she’s ok, and I assist her with dressing and her grooming and things. Now that I’ve been with her, she’s really come around and has been doing much better,” said Kastner.

She says so far one of the highlights of volunteering was organizing a socially distanced outdoor visit with resident’s families.

“It was really nice to be able to see the residents with their families. The hardest thing was when I had to say, your visit is over. It was hard, it was terrible, you just wanted them to keep talking. So that’s one of the best things I’ve done,” said Kastner.

Health officials continue to stress the importance of wearing a mask and staying home as much as possible to help curb the spread of the virus that’s hit hard in assisted living communities.

“We have been disproportionately impacted by this pandemic and we are frustrated by the lack of leadership in terms of enforceable public health measures that would get this pandemic under control,” said Norder.

It’s measures volunteers such Kastner are taking to heart to keep her family safe.

“I don’t see my children, I don’t see my grandchildren, I won’t see anyone at Thanksgiving. We go to the store minimally because I want to be safe to be here for my mother, and not spread it,” said Kastner.

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