Communities pivot during the pandemic
This summer, change is in the air. Everyone has had to make adjustments to fight the current pandemic — staying at home, wearing face masks — including those who live in local assisted living or independent living facilities.
All of these communities have had to make changes to ensure the safety of their residents.
At Blair House at Stoneleigh in Baltimore, for instance, visitors must be tested for COVID-19 a day or two before they’re permitted entry to the 15-bed home environment facility.
In addition, Blair House limits the number of caregivers going in and out of the building, since some of them may work at other facilities.
Who’s filling in for missing workers? The executive director, Tammy Fleming, and her staff.
“We did extra shifts so we could keep our residents safe,” Fleming said. “I’d rather have more of a skeleton crew than infect our residents.”
Blair House also does weekly COVID-19 testing of all its residents and staff, through Peregrine Senior Living, its parent company.
“We’re administering weekly tests to ensure we’re ahead of the game instead of behind the eight ball,” Fleming said.
Social distancing is also key. Blair House’s outdoor courtyard is dotted with colorful flags to designate areas that are six feet apart, as the CDC recommends.
Fleming also redesigned Blair House’s dining room so that residents don’t get too close to each other. “It’s one person per table,” she said. In addition, she said, “We space everyone six feet apart for exercise classes.”
Phone calls replace visits
Of course, phone calls can keep residents safe, too, said Maria Darby, executive vice president of Baltimore-based Keswick. Keswick offers long-term care, rehabilitation and adult daycare, as well as a community health component.
Staring in March, Keswick began calling its community health members once a week to check in. During those calls, they offer to help older adults order groceries online from websites like Giant Peapod or Amazon.
“We’re trying to make them feel comfortable because they’ve maybe never done that before,” Darby said.
Technology has also been a helpful way to maintain connection while being physically apart. Keswick normally offers health and wellness classes in its Community Health Space. However, since the stay-at-home order in March, “We’ve made a 180-degree pivot to online [classes],” Darby said.
Keswick now offers two classes per day on subjects like nutrition, meditation, yoga, cooking, exercise and even how to make your own hand sanitizer.
“Our older adults would prefer to be [meeting] in person, because it’s not exactly the same [online]. But we’ve been excited to see a steady increase in the number of older adults who have been engaged with us,” Darby said.
In fact, about 20% of Keswick members are willing to participate in online classes via the video chat program Zoom — with a little help.
“We had to teach the Zoom component…It’s been a real learning curve for us,” Darby said. “There have been some entertaining moments. We joke that we could create a bloopers roll.”
Instead of in-person tours for prospective residents, many communities are offering “virtual” tours over a computer or smartphone.
However, not everyone has email or smartphones, pointed out Jannette Powell, property manager at Warren Place Apartments in Cockeysville.
“We offer a tour on Zoom, but what I’m finding is that a lot of [potential residents] don’t have access to that, and don’t have email,” Powell said.
In addition to virtual tours, Warren Place offers tours by appointment only. Its staff disinfects the office before and after each visit. Of course, face masks are mandatory in the hallways, Powell said.
“[Potential residents have] found appointment-only tours to be a little more doable, so they’re able to see the apartment,” Powell said.
Overall, staff and residents of local communities have adjusted to their “new normal” lives. Although these changes are new to some generations, older adults may remember family tales from the 1918 flu pandemic.
“We’ve never seen anything like this in our lifetime,” Fleming said, “but our grandparents did.”