Second conference affirms that care of elders is a priority
By Julie Celeste Pimentel
Five years ago, Joyce Eid of Lebanon was looking for help in establishing an assisted living facility for senior adults in her country. Thanks to Mennonite Central Committee, the inter-Mennonite relief, development and peace ministry, Eid connected with David Reimer, CEO and president of Palm Village Retirement Community in Reedley, California. Because of Eid’s and Reimer’s partnership, today there is a network of assisted living centers throughout Lebanon.
The second Lebanese Interfaith Elder Care Conference was held April 22, 2017, in Lebanon. The conference was supported by memorial donations in honor of Ken Enns, who was involved in forming the Lebanon Interfaith Eldercare Group.
Three speakers from the United States—Rick Stiffney, CEO of Mennonite Health Services; Nadim Abi- Antoun, COO of Presbyterian Homes in Chicago, Illinois; and Philippe Saad, an architect for DiMella Shaffer in Boston, Massachusetts—gave presentations on board development, operations and design models for assisted living centers, respectively.
Although Abi-Antoun and Saad are U.S. residents, they were raised in Lebanon, where relatives still reside. Their a clear understanding of the challenges of eldercare in Lebanon was helpful.
During the conference wrap-up, group members spoke openly about their goals. They affirmed the need to continue to share practices and education and to establish a formal legal organization in Lebanon. They hope to be a model for peace, not only in this interfaith group but also for other programs that will prosper with an all-inclusive policy.
War causes breakdown in family life
The Lebanon Interfaith Eldercare Group was established in 2015 thanks to Eid’s hard work and is composed of Shia, Sunni, Druze, Maronite, Latin Catholic, Armenian Protestants and Protestant Christians. While an organization such as this is a phenomenon in Lebanon, when one understands the history of the country you understand why the formation of this group is truly remarkable.
Reference to “the war” is frequent in Lebanese conversations, with the words before, during and since being denominators of the civil conflict that took place from 1975 to 1990. The social structure of the population and, more significantly, the family were forever changed during those 15 years, with civilian fatality estimates as high as 200,000.
Multiple religious sects of Christians and Muslims exist in Lebanon’s population, and each passionately believed that the doctrine of their religion was the one that should predominate. In 1932, what was known as a confessional system was in place and the majority of political power was given to the Christian Maronites as they had a larger population than the Muslims.
However, the system was flawed, and soon the political environment of not only Lebanon but also Israel, Syria and Palestine became intertwined with the system and eventually a war erupted that was external as well as internal to Lebanon.
Prior to the war, as many as four generations lived in one single family home, with the middle generation caring for their parents and sometimes grandparents as well as their own children. Those relationships rapidly changed as whole generations were killed or seriously wounded. The family home was frequently destroyed, and personal property was sometimes stolen and was often seen being used or worn by people the family encountered during the day.
The elders are among those who are most severely affected. Many of them lost not only a spouse but also a child who they had depended upon to care for them in their aging years as the Lebanese tradition prescribes. Many of the surviving younger generation left the country to seek education or job opportunities elsewhere. And those who remained were severely affected by the trauma of the violence they witnessed.
Country is not prepared to care for elders
The absence of the younger generation to care for the elders is a devastating dilemma for the country because other than elder care on the nursing home level, the country is poorly prepared to care for the older generation. The level of nursing care varies from poor to excellent and not every city or village has access to good care. There is minimal government support.
To compensate for the lack of availability, the first option for care of the elder is most often to employ in-home care. This help is usually no more than a housemaid from a country such as Ethiopia. However, that person soon becomes responsible for the daily needs of the elderly resident, not just the home, even though she may be ill prepared to do so.
Among the 53 long-term care centers in the country, Moadieh Evangelical Center is the only assisted living center. The center opened in 2012 in a building donated to the National Evangelical Church of Beirut with Eid as the general manager. To facilitate the creation of the assisted living center, Mennonite Central Committee arranged for Eid to travel to Reedley, California, to visit Palm Village Retirement Community. Palm Village is a well-respected retirement community sponsored by Bethany and Butler Mennonite churches in Fresno, California, and by the Mennonite Brethren churches of Dinuba, Kingsburg and Reedley, California. It could provide education for modeling the assisted living center in Beirut.
Visit to Palm Village proves informative
Eid lived in an assisted living suite on the 17-acre Palm Village campus. For 30 days, she shadowed Palm Village’s staff in every aspect of care and interacted with the residents of the Continuing Care Community to become well informed in the daily operations of an elder care assisted living center as well as other levels of care.
When Eid’s returned to Lebanon, the Moadieh Evangelical Center opened. Shortly after opening, Waid Joumblat, an influential leader of the Druze religion, noticed the center’s philosophy of welcoming elders of all religions. Joumblat visited the center and was impressed with the new concept of assisted living and connected Eid with the manager of the Druze senior care services.
Reimer visited the Center in 2014 to further consult on operations.
With the need for assisted living care rapidly increasing, Eid became interested in implementing the National Evangelical Church’s vision for changing the social environment to one that would provide elder care for anyone in need no matter what his or her religious belief. She would make the phenomenon of non-cooperative religious sects in this country cooperating, real.
Eid was and still is the driving force in the group’s organization. She made the initial phone calls to the administrators of the senior care centers of the religious sects, inviting them to meet for the common goal of uniting efforts for better care for the elders. The rejections she frequently received as she made the calls were countered by the encouragement of Reimer to persist until she was successful.
Eventually representatives of 10 long-term care centers of different faiths, along with Reimer and the late Ken Enns hesitantly met in Cyprus in 2015 to share and learn from each other. Interfaith Elder Care Group of Lebanon was initially formalized at this conference.
The group recognizes that although they were driven apart before, during and since the war, right now they have the same challenges and concerns and so the same solutions may work for all. They have an even deeper goal of being an organization that can be a model for peaceful cooperation in business sectors other than eldercare.
As a result of the 2015 Cyprus conference, the group members made visits to various eldercare nursing centers each month so that they could learn from each other and inspire each other to improve the care in their own center.
Reimer remains in regular communication with Eid and was a consultant for the 2017 conference. It was evident at the 2017 conference that the members have removed all barriers of communication and gone beyond that to seek and trust the opinions of one another. It is clear that because of the group’s efforts, eldercare—even under the most difficult of social influences—can and should be a priority for society. The value of the elders, as experienced and wise individuals who cared for the younger generation during the most excruciating circumstances and the subsequent years, must be acknowledged and respected. The care of elders is essential, and the successes of the Lebanese Interfaith Elder Care Group is a model for progress and peace.
Julie Celeste Pimentel, managing partner at Celeste/Daniels Advertising and Design, attend the 2017 conference. For more information, Pimentel can be contacted at email@example.com
Photo: Prior to the conference, participants toured health care centers in Lebanon. David Reimer, CEO of Palm Village Retirement Community, pictured far right, listens as Nariman Hamadeh, marketing director discusses services at Ain Wazein, a Health Care Center in the mountains of Lebanon, talks with Rick Stiffney, CEO of Mennonite Health Services. Joyce Eid, founder of the Eldercare Group, stands next to Reimer. Photo credit: Julie Celeste Pimentel.
Photo: Participants at the 2017 gathering of the Lebanon Interfaith Eldercare Group. Photo credit: Julie Celeste Pimentel.