Spiritual guidance, meditation and wellness keep Homeland staff in top form during crisis


Chaplain Dann (seated) visiting with a member of our staff and a resident

At Homeland, even the heroes on the frontlines and in core services need inspiration to get through hectic days. Fortunately, they have heroes of their own to turn to, in the form of four chaplains and a wellness adviser.

While Homeland Center’s stringent actions are protecting residents from COVID-19, leadership also is safeguarding the well-being of employees. Meditation and spiritual guidance are equipping staff with the endurance to maintain Homeland’s renowned quality of care.

Even Homeland residents are joining the effort, with meditation sessions that tap into their sense of gratitude.

“Homeland is doing very well with all the physical precautions needed to prevent infection, but we also make sure that people’s minds and hearts stay strong,” says Homeland Hospice Chaplain Reynaldo Villarreal.

Physical protections, mental wellness

Homeland’s strict containment measures include prohibiting entry to all but essential staff (with exceptions for end-of-life situations), mandatory health screening of staff, and maintaining social distancing.

But there is another aspect to protection — the well-being and emotional resilience of staff. Homeland is helping all employees perform at their best through:
• Spiritual and emotional support from Homeland Hospice chaplains.
• Five- and 10-minute meditation sessions.
• Meals provided daily for Homeland Center employees – another step to seal the physical facility from encroachment of the virus.
• Purchase of two cloth face coverings for each employee to wear outside of work and remain protected at all times.

“When employees feel appreciated and supported, it reflects in everything they do,’’ says Homeland Director of Human Resources and Corporate Compliance Nicol M. Brown. “We look at the whole employee — mind, body, and spirit.”

Reflections on togetherness

Chaplain Rey can sense Homeland Center’s calm efficiency when he walks in the door.

“The character of Homeland’s leadership, their uplifting spirit, and their determination really is amazing,” he says.

Homeland’s chaplains – Dann Caldwell, Mark Harris, and John Good, along with Villarreal – had been offering prayers during Homeland department-head meetings. The devotions were so well received that the chaplains extended the opportunity to staff. During shift changes, the chaplains visit nurses’ stations and stand with those who choose to gather. Each chaplain says a prayer, and they offer time to anyone who wants personal prayer.

Chaplain Rey often shares a message of togetherness.

“This is a team effort, and you can’t do it on your own,” he tells listeners.

Sometimes, residents join in. So do staff who don’t consider themselves religious.

“They’ve told me that they feel a tremendous change in the atmosphere,’’ Chaplain Rey. “Words of encouragement are given.”

The chaplains submit encouraging thoughts for the internal employee newsletter and created fliers with uplifting texts and scripture. They also set up an email account for direct contact, and wrote a questionnaire allowing staff to self-check their mental well-being that includes resources to contact for any help they need.

“We call ourselves the beacon of hope,” says Chaplain Rey. “There are different ways of sharing hope. For some people, hope is getting through this with somebody. For others, it is knowing there is a rainbow at the end of the storm. We’re all going through the storm, but the storm passes.”

Easing stress with Dr. Rox

Dr. Roxanne Hearn leading a relaxation session.

Five or 10 minutes. That’s all it takes to “Relax, Relate, and Release with Dr. Rox.”

Employee Wellness Program Coordinator Dr. Roxane Hearn leads Homeland Center staff in mid-day meditation sessions. These allow staff to relax from the bustle of the day, relate to everything going on around them, and release any anxious thoughts.

“The sessions are about calming the mind, which helps staff focus on providing quality care for residents,’’ says “Dr. Rox,” as she’s known around Homeland. A 20-minute Zoom version is launching for Homeland at Home employees.

The positive response from the staff inspired “Calm My Mind Teatime” sessions for skilled-care residents. Residents affirm the positives in their lives, meditate on what makes them grateful, and discuss their revelations over tea and Lorna Doone shortbread cookies.

Residents say they are grateful for three meals a day, the attentiveness of Homeland staff, and the fact that even though loved ones can’t visit, they can still drop off items.

“One resident was happy for her new pink slippers,” says Dr. Rox. “It made her day.”

Dr. Rox has always witnessed the compassion of Homeland staff, but that empathy has heightened during the challenging times.

“The level of compassion I see through all this warms my heart,” she says. “It’s like chicken soup for my soul.”

A positive atmosphere shields Homeland residents from stress during crisis, says Chaplain Rey. The chaplains are doing their part.

“That beacon of hope is where our heart is,” says Chaplain Rey. “People can look toward the lighthouse and find there is hope in the storm. Somebody has to hold that lantern.”

Resident Lee Spitalny: Feeling safe at Homeland


Despite being raised in Brooklyn, one of Lee Spitalny’s fondest memories is riding horses when she was a girl.

“There was a bridle path in one area,” Lee says. “My friend and I would take a bus dressed in our jodhpurs and boots, feeling very ‘la-di-da.’ We would ride around the area. Those horses knew; they would stop at a red light. We thought we were pretty fancy.”

Now a Homeland rehabilitation resident, Lee keeps moving. She receives physical therapy as part of the comprehensive range of services Homeland offers through partner Genesis Rehab Services.

“Their therapists are wonderful,” she says. “I feel so safe here. I’m being taken care of.”

Attending Lafayette High School in Brooklyn, Lee enjoyed acting in plays but not in musicals.

“I cannot carry a note if my life depended on it,” she says.

However, that talent gap led to one memorable moment. Famous singer Vic Damone had attended Lafayette and returned to lead a music class. Sitting at the piano, he noticed that Lee wasn’t singing, so he invited her to sit with him.

“I thought I died and went to heaven,” Lee says. “I was glad at that point that I couldn’t sing.”

Lee’s mother was a buyer for Wanamaker’s department store. Lee herself worked at Gimbel’s, selling girls’ rabbit-fur muffs and hats, which shed white fuzz all over her clothes.

“When I walked into the house, my mother said, ‘What have you got all over you?’ It was bunny fur.” Lee laughs about the memory, but her mother “didn’t think it was funny at the time.”

rsz 1l spitalny

Howard and Lee Spitalny – up close!

Lee continued acting while attending Upsala College in New Jersey. While in college, she met Howard Spitalny, and they married in her junior year. She graduated with an education degree but went to work for an advertising agency.

“The day after I found out I was pregnant, I retired,” she says. “It was a short-lived career.”

Once again, department stores played a big role in Lee’s life. Her husband’s career as Pomeroy’s corporate merchandising manager brought him to Harrisburg.
They grew to love the area, raising their three children from their home in Susquehanna Township.

She remembers when the cartoon character Quick Draw McGraw came to Pomeroy’s, and she and her kids had a chance to ride around in a convertible around town with the costumed horse gunslinger.

“In my heart of hearts, I’m still a New Yorker,” she says. “I loved the theater. I loved the restaurants. I guess I loved the vitality of New York, but
I love Harrisburg now. It’s a warm and wonderful place to live.”

Lee put her education degree to use teaching comparative religion at Susquehanna Township High School.

“I would have ministers and rabbis and priests come to class,” she says. “I once had a voodoo priest talk to my students. I think they got a lot out of it. I didn’t care if they remembered dates, but as long as they left with respect for another person’s faith and religion, that was the important thing.”

Even though Lee had no business experience, a lifetime’s immersion in retail prepared her for the day when a friend suggested that the area needed an upscale bridal gift shop. She opened and ran The Proper Setting in New Cumberland for about 10 years.

“We had wonderful brides registered and met a lot of lovely, lovely people,” she says.

In retirement, Lee volunteers to read to young children at her synagogue.

“They sit all around on the floor,’’ she says. “Being the ham that I am, I love it. They seem to love it, too.”

Lee also served on Homeland’s Board of Managers; the unique board charged with maintaining Homeland’s home-like feel.

She volunteers for Homeland Hospice, spending time with families in mourning. “Everybody grieves so differently, but I hope I can help,” she notes. Lee shares thoughts from her own experience of losing her son Stephen 20 years ago and her husband just three years later.

“Life goes on,” she believes. “It’s so important to remember to have good memories.”

Lee loves to cook – maybe as a creative outlet to compensate for her lack of singing abilities – and she hopes to return to the kitchen after she goes home to her condo and its wonderful neighbors.

In the meantime, she is diligent about physical therapy, walking the hallways with her therapists. She wants to participate in Homeland’s morning exercise classes – “not that I have ever been an exerciser, believe me.” She reads a lot, currently enjoying Rita Mae Brown’s “Sneaky Pie Brown” mystery series. She keeps in touch with friends by phone.

Lee appreciates the sense of security she feels at Homeland, especially given the COVID-19 crisis.

“Homeland is very well run,” she says. “The people who are residents here feel safe, particularly now. The therapists are wonderful. They’re taking excellent care of me, and everybody who’s in here.”