Written by Benn Farrell for The Tribune of Monument
In a time of stay-at-home orders, senior living communities in Monument, like many around the country, have been forced to create ways to keep their residents “social” while keeping safe social distance to protect them from COVID-19.
For Jackson Creek Senior Living and Bethesda Gardens Monument Assisted Living & Memory Support, creative ways of entertaining and keeping residents connected have constantly evolved over the last few weeks and continue to stretch their respective staff’s imaginations.
Activities Director Melinda Sukle at Jackson Creek Senior Living, 16601 Jackson Creek Parkway, said between the three levels of care the community offers — independent, assisted and memory support — most of the residents are precognitive of the outbreak situation. The majority of the center’s memory support residents need reminding of the social distancing, and the staff adheres to guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control in regards to assisted living communities.
“We are not a medical facility,” Sukle said. “We provide more of a home environment, but the [memory support] residents see the staff wearing masks. They aren’t seeing the people they used to be seeing every day. They aren’t dining together anymore. But our staff has been amazing and are an extended family for the residents.”
Jackson Creek Senior Living began its preventative quarantine on March 17, prior to many assisted living facilities, per the CDC recommendations. Sukle said from the first day, the transition has been a work of creative consorting. “From Day 1, my staff and I put our brains together to decide if we implement [quarantine], what are we going to do?”
One of the ideas Sukle and her staff generated was to begin circulating dining carts carrying a variety of donated, sterilized items like magazines, craft kits, devotional items, trivia games and crossword puzzles, among others, which are taken to residents door-to-door. Residents have also been provided with a full array of art supplies, Sukle said, which came from the center’s volunteer staff collecting items from outside.
Staff at Jackson Creek Senior Living loaded up a beverage cart with non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks available to residents in a way of “bringing the party to the people,” since after-hours gatherings are not an option presently, Sukle said.
Ice cream socials are also a custom at these facilities. At Bethesda Gardens, 55 Beacon Lite Road, staff has set up an ice cream cart that delivers door-to-door, decorated with balloons and ribbons, that plays “ice cream truck music,” said Kris Gillen, Bethesda’s vice president of sales and marketing. Residents are able to open their doors and partake while remaining in their own safe environments.
“It is a challenge to try and keep them as socially active as possible,” Gillen said. “One of the reasons people choose a senior living facility, as well as for the hands-on clinical skills available, is for the socializing aspect. We are trying the best we can to think of things to keep them engaged and not so isolated during these times.”
Jackson Creek Senior Living also started what Sukle describes as “ice cream social distancing activity.” Although residents are encouraged to stay within their respective apartments, they are allowed to walk through the facility to retrieve their mail and other needed items before returning to their dwellings. Sukle said making sure residents get individual physical activity has been important to the staff, as well as their attempts to maintain personal connections for them.
Gillen said at Bethesda Gardens, the largest amount of positive feedback they’ve received regarding their quarantine activities programs has been regarding scheduled Facetime or Skype meetings for residents with family members. Bethesda dedicated staff to facilitate the virtual family visits so residents can stay in touch with loved ones on the outside.
In addition, the company has a feature on its app where residents can record video snippets with guided questions to answer and stories to tell, which are then shared where family and friends can watch them. Gillen said those programs have been the most popular for residents and their families.
“It’s hard on them and hard to take the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to away from them,” Gillen said. “They still worry about their families and their grandchildren who may not be as well protected as they are. They are understanding, but it has taken a toll on them.”
Jackson Creek Senior Living has also implemented a FaceTime and Skype program for residents to remain connected, depending on what families have available, Sukle said. The facility has a collection of iPhones that are routinely sanitized and can be used by residents. Some families have even asked to have a Skype camera installed in their loved one’s apartment for more regular contact.
As the programs and activities at these communities continue to evolve over the coming weeks, both assisted living facilities have received volunteer support from the communities of the Tri-Lakes region. There is always a need for help keeping residents entertained, even from outside quarantine.
Sukle said she has noticed the residents highly enjoy current editions of magazines without a lot of advertising, like National Geographic, Smithsonian and classic car magazines. “Those are the magazines which really seem to speak to this older generation,” she said.
In addition, Sukle said a donation of a daily subscription to The Gazette would be highly useful.
Gillen said at Bethesda, children from the surrounding areas have been creating notes and cards for residents, which are dropped off at the front door and are later dispensed after assuring no threat of contamination. Some have even been taped up on the outside of residents’ windows.
“Those notes for the residents have been very encouraging,” Gillen said. “The folks of Monument have been great.”