COVID-19 cost Rachel Schwartz her job. Now, she’s working to keep the coronavirus from costing other people their lives.
Several weeks ago, the 25-year-old Sterling Heights native was working for the U.S. Peace Corps in Africa. Then she and thousands of other volunteers were evacuated as the pandemic spread.
Back home in Michigan and ineligible for unemployment compensation, Schwartz decided to look for a job. What she found has given her a first-hand experience of Michigan’s essential medical heroes responding to COVID-19.
“I instantly sensed the additional burden that COVID-19 was placing amongst the workers and was eager to provide any relief that I could,” said Schwartz, who started working last month as a waiver care aide at MediLodge of Shoreline, a skilled nursing facility in Sterling Heights. “Every individual has been affected by this crisis, but all of these frontline workers are experiencing an intensifying effect.”
The waiver care aide positions are temporary, non-clinical roles that were created by MediLodge’s network of 50 skilled nursing facilities statewide to have extra hands in care centers at a time of need. The jobs, which do not require prior health care experience, are also a response to community residents in the wake of pandemic-related layoffs, furloughs or hour reductions in other industries.
With a background in social work and a desire to help others any way she can, Schwartz was immediately drawn to MediLodge when she came across it during an online career search. She applied for the job and became one of many newly hired team members who are providing facility support in a variety of ways.
The daily to-do list for Schwartz includes making sure all employees are wearing a mask and documenting the results of COVID-19 screenings that employees undergo each day. She also helps residents at mealtime and with their daily hygiene, while also providing emotional support.
From sewing homemade face masks to joining the MediLodge team as an employee, there are many ways to support skilled nursing care during the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a few weeks on the job, Schwartz has alligator-skin hands from constant handwashing and also a new appreciation for nurses who have readily adapted to an environment of COVID precautions including visitor restrictions and personal protective equipment.
“I am both amazed and appreciative of the strength and commitment that I witness within my new co-workers,” she said. “They continue to maintain positive attitudes, to support one another and to provide optimal service.
“We are strong, we are dedicated, and we are constantly adapting. We are the service workers and we are all in this together.”
Of course, support isn’t only coming from within MediLodge skilled nursing facilities these days. Across the state there are stories of heroic acts by family members of residents and the community at large who have rallied around MediLodge facilities to affirm and support the quality nursing care happening inside.
The list of examples is endless:
The Clare Fire Department paraded past MediLodge of Clare and donated lunch for staff members.
Staff members at MediLodge of Grand Blanc have been blessed by a wide range of community donations including crocheted mask extenders, homemade face masks, free lunches and cinnamon rolls delivered by the Grand Blanc High School Class of 2022.
Community members have placed signs in the front lawns and along the driveways of MediLodge of Gaylord and many other MediLodge skilled nursing facilities across the state to honor the healthcare heroes that work there.
This sign was placed on the front door of MediLodge of Port Huron by a resident’s family member on Mother’s Day to thank the nurses and non-clinical staff. On Easter, the facility received dozens of flowers donated by Sam’s Club. Other MediLodge locations have received signs with uplifting messages to place around the building. They’ve received donations of hand lotions and hand sanitizer, fresh cut flowers for residents’ rooms, gift cards and even Kindle tablets for residents to use!
Lakepointe Church usually conducts Christian worship services for residents every month at MediLodge of Shoreline in Sterling Heights. But since visitors can’t come into the building during the pandemic, church members have delivered cards of encouragement to residents and a catered lunch to employees.
The Howell Gun Club has donated face shields for team members at MediLodge of Livingston. Many other MediLodge facilities also have received generous gifts of face shields and homemade masks.
How can you support your local skilled nursing facility during the COVID-19 pandemic? By donating lunch? Delivering snacks or treats? Sewing masks? Sending cards of encouragement or putting signs in the lawn?
Or maybe by joining the team at a MediLodge facility as Schwartz did. Temporary job opportunities are available across the state under 30-, 60- and 90-day contracts for positions in activities, dietary and facility support, as well as for certified and licensed staff such as CNAs, LPNs, and RNs. People who’ve lost their jobs or had their hours reduced, retirees and college students home from school are all among the workers hired in recent weeks.
Some new hires are even turning their temporary jobs into launching pads for a new career, even if they’ve never thought about working in long term care before. For example, Amanda Macias was working in childcare when the spreading coronavirus shuttered her workplace and forced her to be laid off. She applied at MediLodge of East Lansing for a job as a temporary waiver care aide, doing things such as taking employee temperatures at the door, sanitizing surfaces and wiping down wheelchairs.
About an hour into her first shift, Macias was asked by a resident for some assistance. But because she’s not a certified nursing assistant, she had to find another staff member to help.
Macias realized right then that she wanted to pursue her CNA certification. She’s looking forward to taking the certification class, at MediLodge’s expense, and becoming a permanent part of the team. She’s even planning to pursue a nursing license and will start taking classes in the fall.
“I love it so much!” Macias said. “It is physically demanding, but so rewarding to know when I leave work that I made a difference in someone’s life.”
Since founding Biggby Coffee in 1995 and building the Michigan-based business into the fastest-growing coffee chain in the U.S., Bob Fish has taken pride in its hands-on, next-to-you interaction with customers in store lobbies and drive-thru lanes.
The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged, but not broken that spirit.
“Now, it’s more than twice arms-length to get the same job done,” Fish said while recording a podcast with MLive’s Eric Hultgren. “Biggby has always been a place where you go to get a smile and a cup of coffee, and we can’t ignore the fact that people are getting a dopamine rush because they’re seeing people…who are smiling, engaging, happy and excited to see you.
“Our values remain grounded in supporting people and building a life they love. We have to keep a positive attitude regardless of what we’re doing (while dealing with the virus).”
Michigan’s stay-at-home order transitioned Biggby’s business to carry-out and drive-thru service only effective March 17. Some of the 200-plus stores temporarily closed while others changed hours. All the owner-operators are eagerly awaiting the ability to re-engage with comfortable spaces in coffeehouses and breaking out the patio furniture and allowing people to talk, celebrate friendships and share a cup of coffee.
The priority is to keep the health and safety of staff and customers at the forefront, said Fish, Biggby’s co-CEO.
“Biggby has been at the leading edge of doing everything proper from a safety and sanitation standpoint,” Fish said, noting that new protocols with everything from masks to social distancing in stores have been instituted and followed.
Despite the differences in daily routines, Biggby has bucked national trends by increasing its overall sales and hiring staff rather than reducing its workforce. The coffeeshops have been a bellwether of the economy and Michigan’s overall mood.
“I think Biggby is just a note of optimism in what returning to normal looks like,” Fish said. “The fact that sales are back to normal already and we’re in a hiring mode is pretty cool.”
The other shift that Biggby leaders have observed during the pandemic is the care and concern customers have had for staff during uncertain times. People are being “hyper-generous” with tipping baristas and expressing appreciation, Fish said.
Fish also shared how scheduling daily walks has helped keep him remain centered under different life circumstances. He recommends scheduling time for yourself outdoors to all.
“Something really special happens out there,” he said. “You can start sorting through things in your head and getting aligned. Listen to nature, the wind, the trees, the animals, the birds, all that has a really positive impact on your mind and mindspace.”
In some ways, skilled nursing facilities look a lot different during the COVID-19 pandemic. To mitigate spread of the coronavirus, no visitors are allowed, dining halls are empty and certain social activities have been cancelled.
But in other ways, things look just the same. After all, residents and their caretakers and non-clinical staff in housekeeping, maintenance and other areas are still making each other smile each day.
Meow! Mask-wearing staff members dress up as cats to entertain residents at MediLodge of Livingston in Howell.
Sure, this pandemic is a trying time for everyone, and for families of loved ones in nursing care it can even be heartbreaking. Yet, for every story of a resident being sick without family by their side, there are countless more examples of residents smiling – despite the current reality of visitor restrictions and social distancing guidelines.
Sometimes it’s the little things that make the biggest difference in a person’s day, from employees dressing up in goofy costumes to residents making paper airplanes to special, door-to-door deliveries of ice cream floats.
“Due to COVID 19, our residents have had to stay in their rooms, so we have brought the fun to them!” said Laura Decker, activities director at MediLodge of St. Clair.
Residents at MediLodge at the Shore in Grand Haven made paper airplanes and then had a competition to see whose planes could fly through the holes in a plywood map of the USA.
In addition to a wheelchair decorating contest, residents at MediLodge of Clare have fished for rubber duckies and tried their aim in a hallway Nerf gun shooting contest.
In addition to a wheelchair decorating contest, residents at MediLodge of Clare have fished for rubber duckies and tried their aim in a hallway Nerf gun shooting contest.
Residents at MediLodge of Lansing played hallway bingo. They also were treated with door-to-door delivery of ice cream sundaes!
MediLodge staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks. At MediLodge of Gaylord, Director of Admissions Della Rollins (left) and housekeeper Kathy Holton show off their royal crowns.
Staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks, with some even covering their face masks with bunny faces. What’s up, doc? Er, nurse!
MediLodge staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks. In addition to nursing staff, non-clinical employees including housekeepers, maintenance workers, admissions directors and resident advocates have been stepping up each day to make sure the facilities are safe, clean and operating with proper COVID-19 precautions while still having fun
MediLodge staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks. Staff members practiced some groovy social distancing during a 1960s-themed dress up day at MediLodge of Cass City.
Staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks.
Staff members have been dressing up – and hamming it up for the camera – over the past several weeks.
During a Mother’s Day Tea at MediLodge at the Shore in Grand Haven, each resident mom was treated to a plate of sugar cookies topped with cream cheese icing and fresh fruit, along with strawberry lemonade and a homemade purse filled with tissues, hard candy and chocolates.
Residents were treated to ice cream floats in all flavors at MediLodge of Wyoming, where staff also went room to room tie-dying shirts in colors requested by each resident. ‘You can’t imagine how happy floats make people!’ said Charise Whaley, director of admissions.
Team members at MediLodge of Lansing enjoyed a pinata game while having fun with residents and each other.
An inspirational message from the staff at MediLodge of Lansing.
Staff members got fancy while decorating a cart at MediLodge of Okemos.
Madison Walat’s training didn’t involve FaceTime. Yet, there she was at the end of a 12-hour shift in the COVID unit at MediLodge of Alpena, holding an iPad so family members of a resident dying with the coronavirus could say their last goodbyes.
“It really tore me up,” said Walat, a licensed practical nurse. “That was so hard to sit there and hold the iPad while each family member told stories and cried.
“Automatically, not even thinking, I was holding the resident’s hand the whole time. He could hear the family’s voice and I was just holding his hand so he wouldn’t feel alone.”
From donning full-body personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, gowns and face shields to helping residents and family members communicate at a time when health care facilities are closed to visitors, a lot has changed in the world of nursing as Michigan continues to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Then again, some things stay the same. Nurses are always “essential” workers. And through this trying time of change and uncertainty they remain committed to being what they have always been – caring patient advocates.
“There’s been so many analogies for the health care professionals such as ‘heroes’ or ‘superheroes,’ and I use the analogy of being ‘angels’ because they’re having to be guardians,” said Trissie Farr, chief clinical officer for MediLodge, a network of 50 skilled nursing facilities across Michigan. “They’re having to be caregivers. They’re having to be messengers. They’re having to disinfect iPads and facilitate the opportunity for a family member to be able to use FaceTime or Skype.
“When family can’t be there, it could be that the nurse is the last person that patient or resident ever sees before they leave this world. It’s hard on our staff having to deal with that responsibility, too.”
It’s not just hospital workers on the front lines of the pandemic. It’s also long-term care nurses – LPNs, registered nurses and certified nursing assistants who provide care for recovering COVID patients and also take precautions to prevent the virus from spreading to other residents.
Jamillah Lynn, for one, is thankful. Having battled COVID-19 for more than two weeks including an induced coma and 10 days of intubation to help her breathe, Lynn responded enthusiastically when doctors finally asked her if she was ready to leave the hospital: “Yes!” she almost screamed. After all, Lynn figured she was headed home. Instead, she was transported to a skilled nursing facility for rehabilitation.
In the COVID unit at MediLodge of Frankenmuth, Lynn regained her strength thanks to the caring, compassionate staff. Her nurses were sweet as can be. Her therapists challenged her and treated her with kindness. She was served a delicious variety of food that was safe and easy to swallow. She was given activity books to pass the time.
It was the next best thing to being home.
“The TLC I received upon arrival managed to take the pain away,” Lynn said. “I don’t remember their names, but I most definitely remember their faces and kindness.”
In recognition of National Nurses Month, we’re putting names to just a few of those heroic faces that are helping Michigan through the COVID-19 pandemic:
Fredrick Massoll, administrator at MediLodge of Okemos
‘I don’t consider myself a “hero,” but I do believe that I have a purpose and I am where I am supposed to be,’ said Stacey Hodges, left, director of nursing in the COVID unit at MediLodge of Kalamazoo alongside CNA Stephanie Holton. ‘I know that we will all come out of this with a new appreciation for our residents, staff and families for making it through this together.’
‘We provide opportunities for our residents and families to talk and see one another through a window visit, phone calls and video chats with staff assistance, as needed,’ said Lori Burrone, an RN at MediLodge of Hillman. ‘I think it is so awesome, because at least our residents know they are thought of and loved.’
Alaunna McKeithen, non-certified nursing assistant at MediLodge of Okemos
Julie Spicer, long-term care nurse at MediLodge of Green View, in Alpena
Douglas Laurion is a nurse at MediLodge of Capital Area in Lansing who wakes up at 5 a.m. each day and typically works 12-hour shifts. ‘I enjoy staying at work longer than my obligated time to assure that the residents are getting extra attention and support,’ he said. ‘I love working with the long-term care population to soak up their wealth of knowledge and history.’
Lindsay Piejak, a nurse at MediLodge of Rochester
Tiffany Adams, a CNA at MediLodge of Okemos
Walat has only been licensed as a nurse since January, so the pandemic has been a baptism by fire for her. On one hand, she doesn’t know when things will ever go back to normal like they used to be. On the other hand, she’s learning firsthand how nurses have always been guardian angels, no matter the circumstances.
“Every single day I get to make a difference is somebody’s life,” Walat said. “A couple weeks ago I worked many overtime hours. I just didn’t want to leave because I wanted to know what was changing with my patients on my wing. I’m loving seeing them out and getting to walk again.”
National Nurses Month: Thank you to all the long-term care nurses on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic. ‘Together, the staff at MediLodge of Frankenmuth catered to my every need by creating a home away from home,’ said Jamillah Lynn, who recovered from the coronavirus in the skilled nursing facility’s COVID unit. ‘I was grateful to have been placed in good hands.’
Like many parents during the COVID-19 pandemic, Leanna Watson starts her day by making sure her children are prepared to complete their schoolwork from home. Only she can’t talk to them face to face.
Watson is a long-term care nurse, an “essential” job that carries no small risk these days in the part of Michigan hit hardest by the coronavirus. To protect her children, Watson sent them to live with their grandmother about an hour away.
“I work in a building where there’s been COVID and I myself have had COVID, so to keep my kids safe they haven’t been home,” said Watson, 39, director of nursing at MediLodge of Southfield, near Detroit. “Even on the holiday we weren’t together. We had to have virtual Easter with a virtual teatime.”
We’re all dealing with changes to our daily routines during the pandemic, adjusting our personal lives to the reality of stay-at-home orders and social distancing. In many cases we’re juggling home-schooling with work. We’re figuring out how to celebrate Mothers’ Day, family birthdays and graduations without endangering each other. We’re bombarded daily with reports of mounting COVID-19 cases and deaths, and we lie awake at night worrying about what the next day might bring.
Long-term care nurses are grappling with all of that, too, in some cases alone and separated from their families. And if that isn’t enough, when they go to work they put themselves on the front lines of the pandemic, often for long hours every day for weeks at a time so our loved ones get the care they need.
Their sacrifice is worth noting during National Skilled Nursing Care Week. It’s also worth celebrating the all-hands-on-deck spirit of skilled nursing staff and the support of their families, the smiles of residents and the gratitude of their families.
“But together we have resilience in the face of these challenging times.”
Before getting to work
Each morning Sara Tracey feels the same sense of dread that many of us have as she checks her phone and sees the bad news about the pandemic and its effect on people across Michigan and beyond. Listening to the radio on her drive into work, it’s more of the same negativity.
‘I’m constantly doing my usual rounds, only now I’m looking at different things,’ said JonAnn Danielson, director of nursing at MediLodge of Shoreline in Sterling Heights, seen here with resident Barbara D’Anna. ‘I’m looking to make sure that any resident in the hall has their mask on properly, that residents and staff are staying six feet apart from each other, and many other COVID-related rules.’
When Tracey gets to work she goes through a new, painstaking routine that involves having her temperature taken and undergoing a COVID-19 screening – Any new onset sore throat? Any new onset cough or shortness of breath? She washes her hands and dons personal protective equipment including
N95 face masks, face shields, gloves and gowns that she’ll wear throughout the day, making her hot and often uncomfortable.
Then, Tracey walks into MediLodge of Alpena.
“As soon as I open the doors, the dread begins to fade,” she said. “I look at the patients and speak with them to see how they are doing that day. Not only do they carry a smile on their face, a little laughter and conversation begins.
“I speak with the staff down the unit, thank each and every one of them for the hard work and dedication they bring to work on a daily basis. Calls are placed to patients’ families. Updates are given. Now all the negativity is gone. The support by our families while talking with them on the phone is all me and my team needs.”
In addition to going about their usual duties of passing meds, changing dressings and caring for the physical needs of residents, long-term care nurses are busy preventing the spread of COVID-19 while still maintaining a homelike environment.
Because visitors are not allowed in this new normal, residents are unable to hug or kiss their family members and can only talk to them on the phone or through a window. So, nurses regularly facilitate video chats and window visits.
‘My patients always amaze me the way they keep their sense of humor,’ said Brian Grappin, a nurse in the COVID unit at MediLodge of GTC in Traverse City. ‘They are determined to do their best and I’m glad I can help them.’
Gowned-up in PPE and wearing masks and face shields, nurses now smile with their eyes.
“During these tough times of change and adjustment, one thing has remained strong – the support we provide one another, our residents and their loved ones,” said Jessica Ludlow, an RN at MediLodge of Alpena. “Comforting residents, engaging in meaningful conversations and communicating with their loved ones is more imperative now than it’s ever been.”
In some skilled nursing facilities there are designated COVID units where nurses work exclusively with residents who have the coronavirus. Nurses are checking residents’ vital signs much more frequently, taking full sets as often as every four hours to gauge oxygen levels, blood pressure and more. Plus, they’re busy keeping up with the latest government guidelines, which in some cases can be conflicting.
Each day is an emotional roller coaster, as some residents recover from the virus and others die with it. It can feel like losing a family member when a resident dies, and it’s exhilarating when a resident returns to health.
“Working the COVID unit has been physically and emotionally exhausting,” said Stacey Hodges, an RN
Each resident needs extra attention these days because of the isolation, says Jenna Wieschowski, RN. ‘I do my best to keep morale up and spirits high for the residents due to the lack of family and even resident-to-resident contact now because of the social distancing rules.’
at MediLodge of Kalamazoo. “The residents are sick. Many times I have been forced to use my past experience in critical care to help them breathe effectively, get their temperature down or bring a blood pressure back up where it belongs.”
“The fear they show during these times is heart breaking, but the smiles they give when they start to heal and feel better is what keeps me going. I think it’s what keeps all of us going.”
Going home after work
After often working well beyond their scheduled shift, the precautions involved in leaving work are just as meticulous as those taken when arriving. Hands cracked and dry from so much washing during the day, many nurses change out of their scrubs before leaving work. Then in a makeshift changing area in their garage or even a camper in the driveway, they take those clothes off before entering their home and march straight into the shower to wash the day’s germs away.
For long-term care nurses who are parents, bypassing children on the way to the shower is a common experience.
“My daughter struggles because she isn’t able to give me a hug like she used to do once I got home,” said Ashley Graves, an LPN in the COVID unit at MediLodge of Cass City.
After getting cleaned up, then it’s time to go over their children’s schoolwork, try to get some quality time with the family and make dinner. Fortunately, many nurses have supportive spouses to help run the household.
In some ways, many long-term care nurses feel like they are constantly living in survival mode as they go from dealing with family anxieties and concerns to the life-and-death challenges of the workday and back again. ‘We never get a chance to punch out,’ said Rebekah Crothers, an infection control nurse at MediLodge of St. Clair.
“Before I know it, it’s time for baths, bed and prayers that our household remains healthy and safe,” said Jenna Wieschowski, an RN at MediLodge of Green View, in Alpena. “And then repeat it all again the next day. Just normal routine for COVID life.”
In some cases, long-term care nurses haven’t gone home in weeks. They’ve been separated from their loved ones as they isolate themselves during the pandemic.
“I get off the phone with my daughter sometimes and I just want to be there with her, but I don’t want her to get sick,” said Judy Goldberg, an LPN at MediLodge of Cass City. “It’s tough. You hang up the phone and you kinda lose it.”
“But I wouldn’t change what I’m doing. This is what we signed up for as nurses, to help people who can’t help themselves.”
Hope for tomorrow
At the end of March, Leanna Watson was diagnosed with COVID after contracting the virus most likely through her work as a nurse. She lost her taste and smell, suffered bad muscle aches, abdominal pain, diarrhea and shortness of breath with activity.
Watson was off work for two weeks while successfully recovering from the virus at home. When she felt better and returned to her nursing job at MediLodge of Southfield, her family was scared. Her kids didn’t want her to go back to work. But “I signed up to be a nurse,” she said. “I don’t bail when times are hard.”
But even though nurses put on a brave face, that doesn’t mean they’re tough all the time. Watson’s heart melted recently when a long-time resident whom she knew well contracted COVID-19. Prior to his diagnosis, not a day went by that the two of them didn’t talk. Then his symptoms worsened, and he passed away.
“That really hit home for me,” Watson said. “Sometimes I go home and cry.”
Leanna Watson with MediLodge of Southfield resident Monica Foster
But for every sad day, there are good days when nobody is sick or when residents recover. And that
brings hope for tomorrow.
“Those are my happiest days, when it’s feeling like a normal day again,” she said.
Just like any of us who go shopping, William Crisan wasn’t planning to pick up a case of COVID-19 when he walked into a dollar store in Warren, Mich. last month. And just like any of us receiving health care, Julie Baer wasn’t expecting to contract the coronavirus when she went to the hospital with a heart attack.
Yet, both recently were added to the mounting number of COVID-19 cases across Michigan, like so many thousands of our fellow co-workers, neighbors, friends and family members.
Fortunately, both Crisan and Baer are also now are part of a lesser-known statistic: Michigan’s number of COVID-19 recoveries.
“I remember asking a couple of my nurses just don’t let me die,” said Baer, 52, who was discharged this week from MediLodge of Frankenmuth, where she spent the past couple weeks recovering in the skilled nursing facility’s COVID unit.
More than 100 people have recovered from COVID-19 at MediLodge skilled nursing facilities across Michigan. ‘As we see the virus enter communities we adapt,’ said Nicole Kaufman, a MediLodge vice president. ‘Our leadership has put into our veins the fact that we care for people who are sick, and that includes COVID. It’s what we do.’
As we mourn each day’s new tally of confirmed cases and coronavirus deaths, it’s also time to celebrate Michigan’s COVID-19 recovery success stories. There now are nearly four times as many COVID-19 recoveries in the state as there are COVID-19 deaths, with about 16,000 of our fellow Michiganders alive and well more than 30 days after being diagnosed with the virus.
Many other patients in Michigan are currently on track for recovery in skilled nursing facilities across the state. They too will soon join the growing number of recoveries thanks to the care and dedication of nurses at MediLodge of Frankenmuth and many, many other places.
Each recovery means another co-worker, neighbor or friend has returned to their home healthy. Each success story means another family reunited. Together, they mean stronger communities across Michigan now and into the future, and each one is worthy of celebration.
“My most memorable moment was when I walked out the door at discharge,” said Kurt Heide, a COVID-19 patient who recovered for 10 days at MediLodge of GTC in Traverse City. “My grandson was there to get me, and all of the staff were outside and were clapping for me as I left. That was really nice.”
Once COVID-19 patients are no longer in critical danger from the virus, they often transfer to skilled nursing facilities such as MediLodge for continuing care. There, patients receive individualized nursing care around the clock as well as therapy services as they safely quarantine. After two negative COVID tests, the patients then are discharged and added to Michigan’s list of coronavirus recoveries.
“I was understanding when I was told he needed to go to a facility for therapy. I knew he was too weak to come home and I would not be able to care for him at home yet,” said Sheila Stokes, whose husband, John, contracted the virus while shopping and recovered for 15 days at MediLodge of St. Clair. “The virus took a lot out of him.
“It is memorable to me that the staff were able to take time each day to help John FaceTime me on an iPad. It was difficult not being able to see him for that length of time. But it was much easier knowing at least I would get to see him that way.”
Stokes said she “wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” but added that “there is a light at the end of it all.” She encourages patients to “get the care you need” so you can recover and go back home.
Betty Walker can relate. She rehabbed from COVID-19 at MediLodge of Grand Blanc, near Flint.
“Something as simple as getting out of bed had suddenly become a chore and made me dizzy, weak and short of breath,” Walker said. “Some days I really did not want to get up, but the ‘drill sergeants’ at MediLodge made me get up and get better anyway.
“Exercising and building up my strength was critical to my recovery, along with the Motown music we danced to in the hallway. Today, I feel great and ready to return home thanks to the amazing staff of MediLodge of Grand Blanc.”
Here are a few more celebratory scenes of COVID-19 recovery, each one marking a success in Michigan’s ongoing battle with the virus:
‘Have faith in what they are doing for you,’ said William Crisan, 74, who went home after a 16-day stay at MediLodge of Shoreline in Sterling Heights. ‘The staff at MediLodge was excellent. My therapists were very nice and helped me out without making me feel pushed. Staff was very encouraging throughout, telling me how I’m getting stronger. Everyone that took care of me was the absolute best. If I could come back to vacation here I would.’
Frederick Orth, 90, doesn’t know how he came into contact with COVID-19 and he can’t recall the names of staff who treated him during a 16-day stay at MediLodge of Sterling Heights. But he does remember how the staff ‘always remembered my oatmeal and coffee in the morning! I needed the care and they took good care of me,’ he said. ‘I liked my room partner, too.’ A highlight of Orth’s stay was that he was able to see his family out the window when they came to visit.
‘If you want to cheer for someone, cheer for these heroes,’ said Mary M, who was discharged from MediLodge of St. Clair after recovering from COVID-19. ‘Cheer for the heroes that helped me recover. The staff that cared for me were amazing. I am grateful for them all.’
Invariably, recovered COVID-19 patients are happy to get home to their family and friends because the coronavirus is such an isolating diagnosis. In at least one case, however, the patient can’t wait to get back into a skilled nursing facility.
Julie Baer suffered a heart attack last month and went to a hospital in Saginaw for surgery to put a stent in one of her arteries. Then, after returning home, Baer got a call telling her some uncomfortable news: one of her hospital caregivers had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Baer, too, then tested positive for the coronavirus and was added to Michigan’s list of confirmed COVID-19 cases. She also began experiencing coronavirus symptoms including a cough, upset stomach and loss of taste. Most concerning, Baer was having trouble breathing.
Fortunately, Baer’s breathing stabilized at another hospital. She then went into quarantine in the COVID unit at MediLodge of Frankenmuth where her vital signs were monitored constantly. She stayed for two weeks, then was discharged Monday, May 4, and added to Michigan’s list of COVID-19 recoveries.
A Certified Nursing Assistant at MediLodge of Cass City, Baer said it was an interesting experience to be in the bed as a patient rather than at the bedside as a nurse. Now that she has recovered from COVID-19, Baer hopes to be back at work in a week to help other coronavirus patients recover at MediLodge where there’s support from a community of long term care professionals so essential and willing to care for the community they serve.
Having already triumphed through her own COVID-19 recovery, Baer is eager to rejoin her MediLodge nursing colleagues in caring about people while they care for them and in being part of more success stories for Michigan.
“There’s fear, you’re not sure what to expect and then you feel like you’re just cut off from the rest of the world,” said Baer, 52. “I want to get back and work with corona-positive people because I’ve been there. I know what they’re going through.”
The waterfalls are running from the spring snowmelt and the forests on the shores of Lake Superior are blooming, but in the grip of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan residents are missing the comforting sights and sounds of the season change.
In Munising, Cori-Ann Cearley understands that sense of loss. Like other communities, Munising is weathering the impact of the coronavirus and the social distancing that has upended lives since the statewide stay at home order began on March 24.
“This has been a time to really hit pause, reflect, relax and look forward to the days that we can again take advantage of the natural beauty of Pictured Rocks, our hiking trails and our waterfalls,” said Cearley, the president of the Munising Visitors Bureau. “But the most important thing is that we do it when it’s safe and when people are healthy.
“The outdoors, going on an adventure, and seeing things that bring you joy or doing something that you never have before are great stress-relievers. I think everyone will be ready once that time comes, and we’re going to be here when it does.”
While it’s unclear when state shelter orders and travel limitations will be lifted, the ability to laugh, connect with nature and breathe in fresh air will return.
Here are five suggestions to dream about and plan around during this difficult time.
There’s no shortage of awe-inducing wonder at the 73,000-acre Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, which offers 100 miles of trails along 42 miles of Lake Superior’s shore. Take in the multi-colored sandstone cliffs – dazzling displays of red, orange, green and blue – from various vantage points and get your daily steps in at the same time, a win-win for mental and physical health.
Hikes vary in degree of difficulty, but there’s something for everyone with a variety of boardwalks, hard-packed trails and natural paths to discover and enjoy. The self-guided and self-paced walks lead visitors through old forests, former logging areas, sandy dunes and wetlands. There is an abundance of wildlife, isolated lighthouses and exposed shipwrecks dotting the shoreline.
These stunning phenomena are alive and well any time of the year, offering spring rejuvenation, summer’s lush landscapes, fall’s gorgeous colors and winter’s icy marvels that feel like one of the most beautiful places on earth.
“They will really take your breath away,” Cearley said. “The water’s noise is balanced by the quiet of nature. There’s really nothing like it.”
She recommends taking in these six sights:
Wagner Falls: A short walk on a gravel path takes you to a peaceful spot where visitors can see the 20-foot drop of the Wagner Falls. This is one of the most photographed falls as it features stepped areas with multiple rock ledges.
Miners Falls: The impressive 50-foot fall is a 20-minute walk from a parking lot of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. There are two platforms for viewing and the park service advises to take the time to enjoy the views of the Miners Basin.
Munising Falls: In the city of Munising, this 50-foot waterfall is only one-quarter-mile into the woods and is accessed via a paved trail and a viewing platform. Highlights include interesting rock formations and a dramatic drop. are
These more challenging hikes bring well-deserved rewards:
Chapel Falls: One of the larger straight drops, the 60-foot falls are at the end of the Chapel Road Drive and about a 2 1/2 mile hike to Lake Superior, where the famous tree and rock formation is found. Pictured Rocks boat tours are available to this majestic setting, one of the few where falls cascade into the Great Lakes.
Bridalveil Falls: A one-of-a-kind view is found on the 140-foot sandstone cliffs of Pictured Rocks and is part of an eight-mile loop that will also take you past the previously mentioned Chapel Falls. Boat trips from Munising will also grant you looks that will last a lifetime.
Spray Falls: A 70-foot waterfall located along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore can be observed by land or water. The remote area requires walking the trails along the cliffs and the Spray Falls are located 1.75 miles Northeast of Chapel Rock. If guests aren’t up for the hike, the falls are best viewed from a tour boat, kayak or personal watercraft.
Cearley has long maintained that the water is the place to be for visitors looking to find the best views of the Pictured Rocks.
“If you want the best experience and the most incredible views of the cliffs, you’ve got to get out on the water to see them,” she said. “Think about it. When you’re on a trail – and I absolutely think you should get out and hike – you’re only seeing it from the top down, or from a certain vantage point that has limitations.
“If you’re on the water, you’re looking at the whole thing and getting all of that beauty.”
The cliffs, which climb between 50 and 200 feet and flash stunning shades of red, orange, green and blue, stretch roughly 25 miles along the lakeshore. There are multiple Pictured Rocks kayak tours available and all feature the stillness and beauty that will be a highlight of your trip.
Experienced kayakers can head out on their own or there are guides who lead small groups and place visitors as close to the base of cliffs and caves as possible.
Hop aboard a narrated bus tour and learn about the 3,000-year history of Grand Island, a 13,000-acre bit of paradise in the Hiawatha National Forest that sits only a half-mile from Munising. The southernmost island in Lake Superior, this natural area is ideal for hiking and biking to white-sand beaches, stunning elevated vistas and an “I’m all alone in the woods” secluded sites that offer silence from the rush of daily life.
Visitors can get to the island via personal boat or ferry. The wilderness area offers unmatched scenery where travelers can see black bear and white-tail deer. Be sure to check out Echo Lake and bring a fishing pole.
Navigational advances may have diminished the need for the primary function of lighthouses, but the uniquely built structures remain a beacon for people interested in history and beauty on the shores of the Great Lakes.
Munising is the home of eight lighthouses, including the Au Sable Point light that can be toured and climbed from mid-June through Labor Day. Other lights have been renovated and can be seen up close while serving as the center for memorable vacation photos. Some lighthouses have been converted to dream-like private residences.
‘Take your time’
After such a hectic start to 2020, Cearley encourages visitors to explore, unwind and recharge.
“When you’re in Munising, you can really take your time,” she said. “If you’re looking for a nature zen moment, this is how and where you find it.”
After eyeballing sparse seasonal snowfall totals across the Lower Peninsula, Kyle Lafrinere steps outside his office and assesses the crowd at Marquette Mountain, where guests are hitting the hills, riding the terrain park rails and heading out for some backcountry skiing.
“We definitely haven’t had that problem here,” Lafrinere said, with a bit of a laugh, referring to the accumulation of snow elsewhere in Michigan. “We’re using all natural snow, better snow than what the machines make. But we’ve upgraded our snowmaking infrastructure, so when we need it, we’ll have it. New snow guns, new pump system, those will keep us going (later than most ski areas).”
Marquette Mountain opened in mid-November and Lafrinere expects that it will remain open until mid-April, making it a prime attraction for ski-deprived snow-seekers across Michigan. Snowfall is down in Michigan except for the Upper Peninsula, and as usual, winter will last longer in Marquette, providing an outlet for fatbikers, snowshoers and snowmobilers who have been stymied by the lack of storms.
“If you’re looking to get outside, there’s no better place than Marquette in the winter,” Lafrinere said. “We’ve got everything that you want to do in the area. There’s a lot of variety for skiers of all abilities here to enjoy themselves.
“Plus, there are all sorts of options for people who want to do other activities. It’s pretty amazing to have a spot where you can do it all.”
The all-purpose 50K trail system with point to point journeys or looped adventures can be used for snowshoeing, hiking and cross-country skiing. The fast trail features flowy terrain, steep descents and large bermed turns at different points on outings. Ski and snowshoe rentals are available at the Forestville Trailhead, which is popular among first time visitors. Users on foot or snowshoe should avoid trails that are groomed for skiing. Dogs are welcome, on-leash, on many of the trail routes.
Trails up Sugarloaf Mountain and Blueberry Ridge remain popular in the winter. Snow-covered views of the Marquette region and its features are breath-taking. The half-mile trail will be slower-going with snow, but the terrain is manageable for people of all fitness and skill levels. The city’s 12-mile multi-use trail is another great option to get those steps in. The Eben Ice Caves, Yellow Dog Falls and Hogsback Mountain are other potential outings.
Marquette is home to more than 60 miles of bike trails that can be used during the winter months, showing that the riding doesn’t have to wait for the warmer months (although the trails are great then, too.) The Noquemanon network is known for its ability to challenge all users while also offering rides for beginners. Meanwhile, the Range Area Mountain Bike Association in Ispheming has 20 miles of groomed winter trails among its 77 total miles of handbuilt singletrack. There are multiple trailheads that can be found here.
There are 11 amazing waterfall options around Marquette. The changing seasons give waterfalls a unique look whenever visitors travel north to explore, but the late winter and early spring produce water volumes that peak with the snow melt. The mesmerizing views and sound of rushing water will make visitors feel like they’ve stumbled upon one of the most beautiful places on earth. Family and pet friendly options include Wright Street Falls in Marquette and Laughing Whitefish Falls State Park in nearby Alger County. Morgan Creek Falls is another great choice, but the trail is open to snowmobilers until March 31 so hikers may want to wait until April 1.