Ohio church shelters patients after nursing home fire

Pataskala, Ohio

When an electrical fire broke out at Pataskala Oaks Care Center, one of the first calls the facility made for help was to Pataskala Church of the Nazarene.

The fire started before 8 a.m., and by 8:30 a.m. Holly Melick, the life enrichment coordinator at the care facility, called Pastor Gary Reiss to ask if they could evacuate residents to the church.

“We said, ‘Yes, absolutely,’” Reiss said. “We have a relationship with the facility through a Wednesday morning Bible study and a once-a-month worship service. They told us about the fire and that they needed a place to evacuate their patients as soon as possible.”

The church sheltered more than 70 patients, plus staff and volunteers, in its multi-purpose sanctuary space until the patients were transported to other facilities. The last patient left around 6 p.m. the same day.

It went so well that the church and Pataskala Oaks Care Center have since signed a formal agreement for the church to provide “alternative placement” for residents in case of another emergency.

Melick first thought of the church because she knew its space was exactly what they needed: a cool area where patients could rest indoors, out of the summer heat, as staff continued to feed and care for the residents until they could be moved to other facilities.

“Our activities department has been over at the church for years, because every Christmas they provide Christmas dinner for the local nursing homes,” Melick said. “I was very familiar with the church and the space they had, and I knew they could accommodate us without any issues.

“We even had 20 beds delivered to the church, and we had residents in beds in that large room,” Melick said. “We were able to use [another room] for privacy for residents that needed to be changed. It was the perfect situation.”

Almost a dozen members of the congregation arrived to spend time with the residents and their family members as they waited or to set up furniture to meet the residents’ temporary needs.

A Silver Sneakers group, which uses the building for weekday group exercise, continued on with their workout, which proved entertaining to the residents, Reiss said. Then some of the group members pitched in to help as needed.

Reiss said the church became the focal point for the entire community to rally around the long-term care facility.

“It wasn’t just our church,” he said. “Even some other churches’ pastors called from different denominations to ask, ‘Is there any way we can help? Do you need volunteers?’”

Restaurants delivered food, including one that shut down for the day so it could donate all its food to the patients, staff, and volunteers. All told, more than 30 community organizations were involved in supporting the care center during its time of crisis, according to WBNS news.

“It was one of those special times when a whole community comes together to do whatever was needed to help these folks,” Reiss said. “Many people were very generous with their time and resources to help folks in need.”

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