With much of the news cycle focusing on the hardships that have resulted from COVID-19, some uplifting stories deserve to be told. One such story is the call to action for those working in senior living communities.
New Horizons at Marlborough launched a dramatic and dynamic response in early March to keep residents insulated from the virus. It is often stated that those who work in assisted living and other healthcare positions work in “fail fast roles.” Said another way, every role in an assisted living community is intensely focused on the care and well-being of residents. The focus required to be effective can cause burnout and turnover during optimal conditions. With an unfolding pandemic, the loss of such essential employees could have a devastating effect on a community.
Our response to the current stressful circumstances has been one of rising to the occasion. Staff members in all roles have embraced the changing protocols and continue to leverage ingenuity and positivity in their efforts to minimize risk to the vulnerable population they serve.
The housekeepers and custodians charged with the critical task of cleaning and disinfecting common areas and resident apartments continue to apply a diligent and energetic approach to each task. With COVID-19 an invisible enemy, this group has implemented frequent and enhanced cleaning and disinfecting procedures in the common areas throughout our community. While steadfastly monitoring their own health, they report to work each day ready to spread good cheer and help keep our community as clean and fresh as ever.
Activities and programming are critical elements in the life of residents in assisted living. Socialization, one of the great benefits of living in such a setting, can become derailed quickly in a world where social distancing is the new normal. Fortunately, we have hit upon some creative ways to adapt activities for the current climate. We now offer interactive bingo, which is held through a broadcast on our community TV channel that residents can view from their apartments. With our widely popular Friday Happy Hour suspended, we implemented a “rolling happy hour,” whereby beer and wine are offered door-to-door to residents interested in enjoying a libation in their apartment. Movies, exercise classes, and “daily chat” gatherings continue, all with safe distance protocols in place.
New Horizons’ kitchen and dining staffs continue to employ creative solutions in response to social distancing measures. Communal dining was suspended on March 17 in an effort to keep residents out of large group settings. Our youth servers have adapted from their wait staff roles to become “service tray deliverers.” With meals delivered three times a day to each resident’s apartment, this new formula has promoted even more one-on-one interaction between our teens and our seniors.
Nonessential visitation to assisted living communities was also suspended in mid-March. This necessary separation of residents and family members has been a challenging issue for the seniors in our care. In response, several employees collected laptops and established private stations in various parts of the community to make Skype, FaceTime, and Zoom part of our parlance. Families can book a 30-minute window with their loved one between 9:30 AM and 7:00 PM seven days a week, with assistance from staff available at all times. Participation has been strong, and the feedback from both residents and their families and friends has been one of deep appreciation.
We are also using social media, now more than ever before, as a tool to keep our residents’ friends and family members feeling connected to them. A Facebook post in April featuring a series of photo messages from smiling residents has reached thousands. The comfort derived from seeing a current picture of mom or dad telling the world that everything is okay cannot be overstated.
Our residents have also devised creative ways to contribute to the wellbeing of our community. A group of residents has been making homemade face coverings, first for the other residents in their building, and then for the overall campus. The group distributed more than 340 coverings to the community, as well as a hospital where one of our resident’s daughters is employed.
In addition to leveraging creativity and technology, we are employing traditional means to weather the pandemic. At the end of April, we entered the next phase of life in our community, as the National Guard appeared on our campus and administered more than 300 COVID-19 tests to our residents and staff. The results showed ZERO cases of the virus among those tested.
While these remarkable results were heartening, almost as heartening was the cooperation and esprit de corps of every person tested. In its purest form, it was an exercise in everyone looking out for their neighbor, and the latest testament to the community’s commitment to one another. As with so many other assisted living communities across the Commonwealth, at New Horizons, we are managing this crisis by rising to the occasion at every opportunity and working as a team.