Community Health Worker Brought Comfort During the Pandemic

Jennifer Cea

We at Charlesgate appreciated the opportunity given to our residents this year to participate in a COVID behavioral health support program through the Rhode Island Foundation. The program was made possible by partners Rhode Island College School of Education in Healthcare, Community Care Alliance, and St. Elizabeth’s. 

One element of the program involved having a certified community health worker (CHW) come to the community and provide support services for residents who have had interruptions in medical services and social connections due to barriers from the pandemic. At Charlesgate, we did not realize that this plan would become so much more than simply providing social resources.

Enter CHW Jennifer Cea. As Jennifer explains it, her role at Charlesgate became one of filling a void of emotional support, partially created by community shutdowns in response to the pandemic. Residents were struggling desperately with social isolation, anxiety, and depression, and Jennifer was able to slip into a sort of “listening, supportive, counseling role” for 31 residents who saw her an average of eight times during the course of the grant. Jennifer says that she observed from her previous experience as a CHW in the community that many are suffering the consequences of isolation. “People are really lonely,” she says, “and I have really enjoyed this opportunity with Charlesgate to try to fill the void for them.” 

Jennifer was able to build collaborative relationships with these residents over the seven months that she joined us, seeing them two and three times per week, listening to their pain, brainstorming with them on steps of action for their well-being, encouraging them when they were low, and celebrating with them on their victories. Here are just a few of the success stories:

  • With Jennifer’s encouragement, one resident was able to overcome obstacles to the point where he was able to get a job interview at a local restaurant!
  • Jennifer initially faced some challenges with scheduling. Because she works a full-time job as a CHW for Neighborhood Health Plan of Rhode Island, she could only come to Charlesgate in the evening. It was hard for her to advocate for residents with medical providers, who are mostly open during the day. The solution to that obstacle was to provide good communication about residents’ needs to the clinical staff at Charlesgate, who were then able to make those connections for residents during the day.
  • One of our residents was still suffering the pain of being estranged from her grandchildren for over a decade. Jennifer explains that the woman presented with one problem: finding her grandchildren. But as she uncovered the layers of complication, it was really about “her looking for someone to care for her, to be there for her.” As Jennifer listened to the resident, she was able to suggest coping skills to deal with the disappointments she has experienced from family members, and to help her find new, productive ways to deal with conflicts in her life now. With Jennifer’s help, the resident was able to tap into her faith, and to find other alternative activities to help her cope. Jennifer encouraged the resident to attend the Technology iPad class, also a component of our COVID support grant, where she has rekindled her love for Elvis and his gospel music.

Jennifer says she feels like she has been most helpful to her clients by providing a listening ear to them. Even if a solution could not be reached for a resident, having someone to brainstorm solutions with and to provide support meant the world to our residents. The feeling that she could be someone that our residents trusted was fulfilling to Jennifer as well. 

Jennifer also noted that working closely with some folks who struggle with severe and persistent mental illness diagnoses strengthened her compassion and her resolve to continue to fill the gap – and she has already enrolled in Rhode Island College School of Social Work to earn a master’s degree in social work. 

We were so glad to have Jennifer with us at Charlesgate during this time, and we wish her the best. We would welcome her any time, if perhaps her journey leads her back to us again. Here’s to hope, Jennifer. Thanks for bringing some to our staff and residents during this very challenging time.

— Lauren Yabut, LICSW, Administrator, Charlesgate Senior Living Center

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