As chaplain of Morris Hall, Lawrenceville, Father Angelo Amaral is accustomed to seeing a daily stream of family members and friends visit loved ones in the Catholic, multi-level health care complex that serves the senior population.

But ever since visitors were prohibited from having contact with residents due to coronavirus restrictions, Father Amaral has observed other ways loved ones are communicating.

“It’s been beautiful,” he said of seeing the expressions on the faces of family members and residents as they conversate in new ways, such as talking on phones while being separated by a glass panel or borrowing iPads from staff members.

Most moving, he said, is seeing second-floor residents talk out their windows to their loved ones in the parking lot below.

Then there’s technology, as is the case for Stephanie Pratico, whose mother has late-stage Alzheimer’s disease. Pratico, of St. Ann Parish, Lawrenceville, spoke to her mom via a video call during Holy Week.

“She was able to see my face and hear my voice through the iPad,” Pratico said. “I could tell by how her face lit up that she knew it was me..”

New Way of Life

Morris Hall staff have been diligent in safeguarding the nearly 230 people residing in St. Mary Assisted Living, St. Joseph Skilled Nursing Center and Morris Hall Meadows, especially as its residents are at an advanced age, or have compromised immune systems or existing health issues.

“They are in their rooms, and they stay in their rooms,” Ellen Petroski, administrator and chief operating officer of Morris Hall, said of the residents.

In addition, residents can’t gather in a group setting, such as for meals. Masses have been suspended.

The staff wear face masks, frequently wash their hands, use hand sanitizers and practice social distancing, except for when providing necessary health care. Plus, staff test anyone with respiratory symptoms for COVID-19.

Father Amaral continues to visit residents in their rooms, though he takes numerous precautions. He has his temperature checked upon arrival, keeps a safe distance, and wears a mask and gown. He also limits his personal outings – for the most part, staying put in his quarters at Villa Vianney, the diocesan residence for retired priests.

Although residents can’t currently receive the Eucharist, Father Amaral said it’s his prayer that they know the “presence of God is with them.”

Alleviating Fears

The impact of the virus is of great concern to the residents’ loved ones, who are “very, very anxious, and understandably so,” Petroski said. “They feel so helpless.”

Petroski said she tries to allay family members’ anxieties by sending daily emails that include updates on COVID-19 developments and safety measures being implemented by Morris Hall.

“The families see the emails as a lifeline in helping to keep them connected with their loved ones,” she said, adding that she also includes a Scripture verse that she hopes family members find comforting.

“We are doing the best we can do with what we have,” Petroski said.

Pratico said she finds tremendous comfort in Petroski’s daily emails. “[They] consistently remind me of how blessed we are for those who give of themselves each day so that my mom and all those in the care of Morris Hall have what they need to be cared for in our absence, every day.”

She admitted that one of her greatest fears is that if her mother were to pass, “I would not able to be with her.”

That’s where faith comes in. “My only comfort comes from knowing that God has his hand on her,” Pratico said.

Father Amaral, too, confided that it’s been difficult having to scale down his visits to Morris Hall. “Now, I can’t be with them as much. I’m praying that God will help me deal with these circumstances. I need to learn to be patient, have faith in God and give God the space to handle this situation in his time, not mine.”