Featuring: Sudi Rodway, Recreational Therapist

As the COVID-19 virus ran its course through the country, it put incredible pressure on patients and residents in the nation’s hospitals and long-term care facilities. Older adults were particularly affected by the virus, as fatality rates from the pandemic rose strongly with age. Thus, it became necessary to protect the elderly from direct social and physical contact. They couldn’t see family members, engage in social activities or, in some cases, leave their rooms. For seniors living in skilled nursing facilities, this forced isolation was the hardest part of the pandemic. Being sequestered caused more confusion, more sadness, and more physical stress, and was particularly hard on residents with dementia or depression.

Health communities faced a dilemma: Protect their patients and residents from the virus, while helping them stay socially connected. This is the kind of creative challenge that falls on caregivers – those dedicated people who provide food, medication management, nursing, companionship, and everyday acts of care to millions of seniors across the country. These are the caregivers that Ceca Foundation celebrates every day through its recognition and reward program.

Sudi Rodway receiving the Ceca Award during a community celebration

One such caregiver is Sudi Rodway, a recreational therapist in Washington, DC. During her time working in a nursing home, when residents were locked-down due to the pandemic, residents’ families and friends were shut out, Sudi Rodway remained present to help alleviate the isolation residents felt and took on the extra role of helping them do video calls with friends and family… every day. She then went a step further and helped organize window visits. And when guidelines and regulations allowed, she put her creative energy to work and orchestrated patio visits, bringing families as physically close together as safely as possible. When it was time for limited indoor visits, Sudi developed a scheduling system that would allow family members to spend at least 30 minutes with their loved ones. She worked with nursing and housekeeping to make sure the residents were ready for their visitors, and that the rooms were cleaned and sanitized after each visit, and ready for the next family reunion.

Born and raised in Washington, DC, the first-born child of immigrant parents from Guyana, Sudi came to the world of health caregiving early. She started volunteering at Stoddard Baptist as a middle school student when she was about 11. She helped out with fundraisers and mealtimes, and with activities in the Therapeutic Recreation Department. She continued to volunteer through high school and officially interned during her junior year.

“Growing up I was always able to volunteer here,” she explained, “so I knew the staff and most of the residents, and how they do things.”

She went on to attend Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina, got a degree in recreational therapy, and returned to Stoddard Baptist to help residents reduce depression, stress and anxiety, build confidence, and socialize effectively using arts and crafts, music, dance and sports to get them engaged.

Sudi engaging with a resident during an art activity

Sudi is quiet, compassionate, professional, helpful, and generous with her personal time. She makes every resident she encounters feel special, and has touched so many families by her willingness, in the thickness of COVID, to connect them with their loved ones.

“It was often hard to come in and care for residents who were suffering, and dying,” she admits. “You didn’t want to pass it on to residents or catch it yourself, so it was scary. But there were special times as well,” she continued. “One of the residents hadn’t talked to her children in a while, and her son reached out to me, asking if he could talk to her. They hadn’t talked in years. I said yes, sure, I’ll set that up. So I went back to the room and told the resident what I was doing, and she said, ‘But who, who wants to talk to me?’ And when I told her, her face just lit up. It was such a great experience to bring happiness to a resident.”

Sudi acknowledges that many caregivers are burned out, and a bit scared of COVID. She advises young people considering this line of work to “Make sure you take time for yourself – meditate or do something after work that calms you down. If you burnout, you can’t perform at your best. You can’t pour from an empty cup.

It’s ideas like these that keep co-workers grounded. It’s acts like these that help keep our seniors engaged, socially connected, less isolated, and a little less lonely during this difficult time. And it’s people like Sudi that our seniors rely on for that special connection. It was for these simple, creative, and extraordinary acts of care that Ceca Foundation was proud to honor Sudi with its Ceca Award.

Sudi helping a resident with a craft during a Valentine’s Day party

Sudi serving a resident a special dessert