Although human nature itself is inclined to be compassionate toward the elderly and the young, the authority of the rule should also provide for them. Since their lack of strength must always be taken into account, they should…be treated with kindly consideration… Rule of Benedict, Chapter 37
Following an ancient monastic rule often leads to innovation in crafting programs that adhere to these precepts. The monastery has been engaged in a number of dynamic programs to enrich elder care including becoming a certified MUSIC & MEMORY℠ facility and implementing the state health department’s Fit and Fall Proof™ program.
Sister Janet Barnard, a registered nurse and the community’s health care coordinator, explains, “Outside assessments of our elder care gave us lots of positive feedback along physical lines but suggested we could improve in some of the psycho-social-spiritual pieces. In particular, how we dealt with what Bill Thomas calls the three scourges of aging: loneliness, helplessness, and boredom.”
Dr. Bill Thomas is the founder of a global non-profit The Eden Alternative and creator of The Green House Project that promotes radical new approaches to long-term care. Care is focused on the abilities of the individual person rather than institutional implementation. Both Sister Janet and Sister Barbara Jean Glodowski, who has worked with the Area Agency on Aging, became inspired by Dr. Thomas’ ideas about four years ago. One of the first changes was to cease referring to the area of the monastery devoted to caring for elderly sisters as the “infirmary.” It is now referred to as Second Floor. “Our sisters there aren’t sick,” explains Sister Janet. “They are elderly and require assisted living.”
Developing a Philosophy
Other changes include looking at ways to deepen community living situations and to include more contact with nature. The especially vocally-inclined group of elderly sisters participate in regular sing-alongs, there are more plants and visiting pets throughout Second Floor, and staff are finding innovative ways to incorporate the gifts and talents of the residents. For example, Sister Jean, who used to work as a massage therapist, now offers hand massages to other sisters.
To further hone and clarify their values regarding care of the elderly, the sisters created a Philosophy of Health, Aging, and Retirement. “Aging is a natural life process which begins with conception and ends with death bringing with it opportunities for conversion and transformation,” it reads. “Our cenobitic community is the lens through which all aspects of life are viewed.”
As a Benedictine community, the St. Gertrude’s sisters have made it a priority to care for their elderly sisters at the monastery, ensuring participation in monastic life as sisters are able and depth in community relationships. The Second Floor sisters go to daily prayer and Mass and participate in feast days, holidays and other celebrations. As the Philosophy states, “Retirement offers blessings and opportunities for prayer, leisure, and service consistent with the individual’s abilities and limitations as well as being life-giving for the individual and community.”
Music and Memory
The Monastery recently became a certified MUSIC & MEMORY℠ facility, one of four in Idaho. The program began when a social worker in New York saw the positive changes that transpired in assisted living residents who began listening to individually customized playlists. On the monastery’s Second Floor, caregivers find that music helps allay anxiety and boredom in the residents, and promotes rest, joy, and cooperation.
The Second Floor sisters also just finished their first ten weeks of the Fit and Fall Proof™ program. Sister Louise and Sister Jean especially saw improvements in balance and strength. The program can be adapted for people in wheelchairs and includes yoga positions, resistance bands, and fitness balls. The sisters exercise 9:30 to 10:15 every Tuesday and Friday in a vacant first floor room and anyone is welcome to join.
Not every religious community is able to run an assisted living facility right at home, as the cost of care can be exorbitant. But the St. Gertrude’s sisters are compelled to do whatever it takes to keep sisters at home, including creating a special Monastic Immersion Experience program for caregivers and partnering with Lewis-Clark State College to have nursing students come do clinical rotations. “We strive to be efficient,” says Sister Janet.
Philosophy of Health, Aging and Retirement
We the sisters of the Monastery of St. Gertrude in Cottonwood, Idaho believe:
~ Life is a gift from God with various developmental stages, each having its own potential for growth and transformation.
~ Health is the dynamic relationship of physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual wellbeing.
~ Aging is a natural life process which begins with conception and ends with death bringing with it opportunities for conversion and transformation.
~ Our cenobitic community is the lens through which all aspects of life are viewed.
~ Retirement offers blessings and opportunities for prayer, leisure, and service consistent with the individual’s abilities and limitations as well as being life-giving for the individual and community.
~ Reciprocal rights and responsibilities guide members and community in understanding and maintaining health.