Amy Twyman thinks of the residents at The Inns at SharonBrooke and Chapel Grove as her parents and grandparents. She refuses to let them and their families struggle like she and her family did over 30 years ago while finding an assisted living facility for their grandmother.
While the residence they chose was wonderful, she said, she always felt that it could be more for its residents. Shortly after moving her grandmother in, Twyman became an aid at the facility, working her way up to an executive director before landing at SharonBrooke. Since then, she’s implemented the changes she wished her grandmother had, from more outside trips to a commitment to making the residents’ “last days the best.”
“It’s just important to me that families know that we love their mom and dad and that we’re going to do whatever it takes to keep them happy, healthy and safe,” Twyman said.
When COVID-19 cases started skyrocketing across Ohio in March, she stayed true to her word.
For three weeks, Twyman and her team brainstormed ways to prevent COVID-19 from infiltrating the buildings, hashing out a meticulous plan to isolate with residents, finding staff willing to join them and keeping the 225 families of residents informed about the changes.
Among the volunteers to stay was SharonBrooke’s dietary cook, September Wilson, who’s worked with Twyman for 12 years and deems her one of the “best bosses” she’s ever had. Wilson committed to the lockdown after painstakingly weighing her options. “It definitely helped knowing that [Twyman] was going to be there, just because she just gets in there and does things with her employees,” she said.
On Mar. 12, Twyman, her husband, her two teenage children and 43 Chapel Grove and SharonBrooke staffers locked the facilities’ doors for what they thought would be a few weeks, stuffing air mattresses into any available rooms, cycling through shifts and carrying out the day-to-day as normally as they could.
Soon, two weeks became a month, then two, and before long Twyman and the staff had spent 65 days locked in the residences. Telling her staff week after week that they had to be away from their families for another week was hard, she said, and the moments spent sitting with residents in place of their families as the days passed were even harder.
But through the difficulty of being away from loved ones, the staff and residents at SharonBrooke gained plenty of fond memories and stronger bonds. Residents made a habit out of checking in on staff. Twyman learned valuable lessons about residents’ lives in the facility, and their 225 families catered the staff’s dinners every night. Over time, their close-knit communities morphed into the tight-knit families Twyman dreamt of years before.
“She doesn’t look at it as a job; she looks at it as taking care of her family,” said Mariann McClellan, who nominated Twyman as an Everyday Hero. “You always hear, ‘If you love what you do, it’s not really a job. It’s just what you do.’ She was just doing what she would hope someone would do for her family if it was ever needed.”
Twyman and her staff’s efforts were successful. As they exited SharonBrooke on May 16, their community welcomed them home with fanfare, cheering and donning signs thanking the “COVID heroes” for their sacrifices.
But Twyman doesn’t consider herself a hero. She’s a caregiver doing what is right and, above all else, her residents’ dutiful surrogate grandchild. “To know that all my residents are healthy is the best feeling ever,” she said.
“To be honest, I’d do it again if we would get this unreal surge in the fall,” she added early this summer. “Without hesitation, we would probably lock down again.”
That comment proved prophetic, though the surge arrived earlier than expected. Her residents and staff remained COVID-free as of July, but due to rising COVID-19 cases in central Ohio, Twyman and 43 staffers began a second voluntary isolation at the facilities on July 30.