Bill Lowe, ’78, M.B.A. ’88, Protects Seniors in Chicago During Pandemic
By Eva Richards
In this time of pandemic, our most vulnerable citizens are living in a difficult new reality, with none more hard-hit than those living at senior living facilities. Across the country, senior health organizations have had to step up protections and protocols, shielding the elderly from COVID-19.
Huskie Bill Lowe, ’78, M.B.A. '88, has been leading the charge at Chicago Methodist Senior Services (CMSS). As president and CEO for the past 15 years, it is his job to prioritize the safety of their more than 200 residents at five communities. Now, in this challenging time, it has translated to a new routine and an even more vigilant mindset.
Nurses wear masks, face shields and gowns when appropriate. CMSS takes the temperature of staff members three times a day, monitors for COVID-19 symptoms and administers questionnaires at the beginning of shifts. Residents wear masks when they receive direct care. CMSS stopped allowing guests into the communities in early March to prevent the spread of the virus. These have all been difficult adjustments to make, but critical in keeping protecting the communities.
“It’s hard for me to express the gratitude I feel for the CMSS staff who have worked tirelessly over the last three months,” Lowe said in a recent essay for the service’s website. “Long days, less sleep and remarkable discipline became the new normal as we prioritized the safety of our residents. It’s led to some quick learning on the fly. We have daily calls with the leadership of all of our communities where we check how everyone is doing and the status of our supply of PPE (personal protective equipment).”
Even during this time of hardship, Lowe admits that he has seen positive change in his communities.
“I’ve watched the CMSS community come together in ways never seen before, and while I know there is still a long journey ahead of us, we’ll work with one another to move through it,” he said, adding that the CMSS leadership and front-line staff have risen to every challenge, staff proved themselves to be heroes, and residents found inner-strength they may have been surprised by.
Recently, CMSS’ Wesley Place rehab facility residents were tested for COVID-19 and, to everyone’s relief, the results came back 100% negative.
“It really warmed my heart,” Lowe reflected. “It made me so happy to see our vice president of operations at CMSS going room-to-room, telling everyone they had tested negative. Staff and residents cheered, cried in relief, and some even danced.”
Still, COVID-19 continues to be an unpredictable and unrelenting foe. Many residents have not seen family members in weeks and months, and the impact of COVID-19 on the lifestyles of CMSS residents who experience memory loss has been especially difficult, Lowe said. To help ease the distance, the communities were able to set up iPads as a way for residents to communicate with family members.
“We’ve all adjusted to frequent virtual communications, but for the older adults, these opportunities to speak with friends or family are particularly meaningful,” he said. “Wesley Place residents have also been able to step out on the first-floor patio to see their loved ones from a distance.”
The surrounding community has also made a huge difference for the senior homes. In May, CMSS raised $15,000, with another $5,000 matched from the Board of Directors, with all the money going to buy PPE. CMSS communities also received donated masks and other PPE from community members.
A friend of one home rented a cherry picker and serenaded the 3rd- and 4th-floor residents at one senior home. Frontline Foods coordinated with groups like White Oak Gourmet Home Meal Delivery and Doughnut Vault to drop off meals for residents and staff. Family members also donated meals to be shared among the residents.
“The past three months taught me just how resilient CMSS residents are,” Lowe said. “It’s not easy for them to change their way of living, but inner-strength and perseverance are traits they all share.”