‘They just close the door’: Palestinian nurse visits Trinity Oaks to learn more about dementia care

By Susan Shinn Turner For the Salisbury Post

Every other year, Raeda Mansour comes to America for a parish nurse conference. Since 2007, she has been the only parish nurse in the Holy Land, serving at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, Palestine.  After this year’s conference, Mansour made a stop in Salisbury to visit the Trinity Oaks campus.   Two years ago, Deanna Burris, campus director of life enrichment and wellness, and Deb Tillman, a social worker in Health & Rehab, traveled to Bethlehem to conduct four days of dementia care training for professionals and caregivers. Michael Connor, a member of St. John’s Lutheran Church who heads its Palestine ministry, served as project coordinator.  In preparation for the trip, Burris and Tillman were shocked to learn that no such continuing care retirement communities like Trinity Oaks existed and in fact, even nursing homes are rare.  That’s why Mansour wanted to visit Trinity Oaks during her visit to the U.S. in May.   Burris and her colleagues were thrilled to welcome her.  “I saw what the Palestinian people did not have access to,” Burris said Friday. “I could feel the turmoil that’s there now. I could feel a sense of urgency to get help and awareness. You can’t fully understand unless you’ve been there.”  Mansour may not have resources at home, but she does have access to information to educate those families whose loved ones battle dementia.   “Caregiving is universal,” Mansour said during a presentation for Trinity Oaks residents.  Mansour and her two sisters — all nurses — cared for their mother, who had advanced dementia. Although their mother was in a nursing home, they were there constantly, bringing her food and whatever other supplies she needed. There was only one nurse for the nearly two dozen residents.  Since she became a parish nurse, Mansour has been passionate about caregiving, especially when it comes to dementia.  “There are only five Lutheran churches in the Holy Land,” she noted during her remarks. “We are in a minority, but we are a large influencer.”  Mansour started a program for the elderly with 14 members in 2006. By 2018, that number had grown to 2018. She is also international programs manager for Dar Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem.  Mansour pointed out that the elderly in Palestine have no health insurance, no Social Security, no pension.  “Their care comes from their personal savings from themselves or their children,” she said.  Only about 5 percent of the community in Bethlehem is Christian, and that number is constantly shrinking.  But, Mansour said, “Our seniors don’t prefer to leave their houses and their land.”  Mansour also talked about the separation wall that surrounds Bethlehem. Although Bethlehem is only nine miles from Jerusalem, traveling for Palestinians between the two cities is arduous.  “It’s keeping us in a big prison,” she said of the wall.  In her ministry, Mansour put together home visits for basic care and companionship. She sponsored social gatherings, clubs, joint meals and Bingo. She wrote sketches about dementia to educate seniors and their families. The ministry has even visited Muslim villages.  “We were welcomed,” she said.  In 2020, between the occupancy and the pandemic, “Our seniors were really scared,” she said.  Mansour decided to hone in on dementia care when she noticed her seniors were suddenly missing from activities.  “Their families gave me lots of excuses,” she said. “That’s when I discovered they were having memory decline. People feel shy to admit that. It’s a stigma. People tend to isolate family members.”  That’s why she wants to educate her fellow Palestinians about the signs and symptoms of dementia. She hopes to form a support group for family members once things stabilize a bit more.  Besides the training in 2022, Mansour helped host conferences with gerontologists and webinars during the pandemic.  “My passion goes with them because I was one of those people,” she said.  At the time of her appearance in Salisbury, Mansour said that some 40,000 people — mostly women and children — have been killed in the fighting in Gaza.  “People who are killed are not numbers,” she said. “They’re human beings.”  She continued, “Please keep us in your prayers. We are staying on the land. Our pastor, Munther Isaac, says that existence is our resistance. Please pray for us. Please be our ambassadors.”  At the end of her presentation, she was asked, “Are you safe?”  She replied, “No place is safe.”  The next day, after spending the night with Gail Hounshell, who lives in the cottage neighborhood, Mansour took an extensive tour of Trinity Oaks.  “I’m very impressed,” she said, as the tour began. “It’s beyond my expectations.”  She ate breakfast at The Lodge, and met with senior staff during their regular Monday morning meeting.  “At home, people tend to isolate their relatives,” Mansour told the staff. “They just close the door. This is a tremendous opportunity for me to learn from your campus. When we did professional staff training, they were hungry to learn. We’re still behind in lots of issues with older adults, and our staff is not qualified to deal with cases.”  Then it was off to visit the Trinity at Home office, whose staff members serve both residents and the community.  Teresa Dakins, who works in community outreach, showed Mansour supplies to share with family members with dementia, such as games, coloring books, fidget boards and fidget aprons.  “We allow families to be a family again,” she noted.  She added, “Twelve to 14 years ago, people were very embarrassed to admit they had a loved one with dementia.”  Mansour also visited Trinity Living Center — which houses the adult daycare program — as well as Health & Rehab and the Virginia Casey Memory Care Unit.  “I truly felt the love and passion of what the Trinity Oaks team is doing,” Mansour said later. “It is a call, and not just a job.”  Mansour has another connection to Salisbury. St. John’s Lutheran Church and Christmas Lutheran Church have been mission partners since 2012. She attended both services at St. John’s on Pentecost Sunday.  A large group of St. John’s members and friends visited the Holy Land in spring 2023, and a group of a dozen Palestinian youths came to Salisbury in July 2023 for a youth summit with 12 youths from St. John’s.  After lunch at Trinity Oaks, Mansour stopped by St. John’s to tape an upcoming episode of the podcast “Conversations that Matter” with Pastor James Demmel and Connor, the Palestinian ministry leader.  “I am praying for more training,” she told Connor. “Trinity Oaks was overwhelming for me. I am happy for your people, but I feel pity for our people. It’s not fair. We are all human beings, and deserve to live abundantly and with dignity. I’m hopeful, but I’m really frustrated.”

Susan Shinn Turner is staff writer for St. John’s Lutheran Church.

Read more at: https://www.salisburypost.com/2024/07/02/they-just-close-the-door-palestinian-nurses-visits-trinity-oaks-to-learn-more-about-dementia-care/