Over the past year-and-a-half, the COVID-19 pandemic has led senior living facilities to make numerous changes to protect residents’ health. These changes continue even as the pandemic recedes and restrictions are lifted.
During the early stages of the pandemic, one of the largest groups affected was senior citizens. Those who opted to live in assisted living facilities instead of at home with their loved ones spent the first few months of the pandemic alone. At Wallick Communities, a property management company in New Albany, Stephanie Hess, senior vice president of senior living operations, said the facility followed Ohio’s restrictions as much as possible.
“Anybody who wanted to come into the community has to be screened by our receptionist, and only essential personnel were allowed to enter the community so, you know, family members who used to come in and maybe help mom with laundry or help read (to) her,” Hess said. “So, only Wallick personnel were allowed in the early stages of the pandemic.”
The pandemic also caused Cherry Blossom Senior Living in Columbus, an independent living, assisted living and memory care community, to change its structure.
Marion Durham, Cherry Blossom’s community relations director, said their digital platforms like Facebook and FaceTime helped residents to connect with their loved ones. The community also coordinated window visits for residents and family members to follow social distancing protocols. Although she said many of residents were “doing their best” to stay positive during the first few months, some struggled with restrictions until they learned more about COVID-19.
“Early on, we had a resident who was upset about having to wear a mask and upset that she couldn’t go have lunch with her daughter,” Durham said. “This would be early on in the COVID, pandemic, March, April, May of last year.” But, Durham said that the resident changed her mind as she learned more about the pandemic. After complaining for a while about the restrictions, the resident told Durham that after watching the news she realized that the facility was not a jail to keep her in, Instead, Durham said, the resident told her, ‘this is my castle, this is my fortress. You’re keeping the germs out. You’re not locking me in, you’re keeping the germs out.’
Durham adds that the resident had it right. “So, looking at it as a fortress is exactly the way we wanted to look at it because we really felt that we were providing a safe haven for our residents during a difficult time,” she said.
Durham added that Cherry Blossom also recognized the importance of caring for residents with Alzheimer’s disease or other memory issues. The facility provided for window visits, along with family member visits under “very careful” guidelines.
In January, seniors over the age of 65 received were able to receive the vaccine, which allowed the Cherry Blossom and Wallick communities to open their doors to more visitors, offering residents the opportunity to join their communities again.
Durham said residents are now allowed “no more than two visitors per resident in the resident’s apartment or outdoors” and those visits need to be scheduled 24 hours in advance.
Hess said her facility, like Wallick, now allows seniors to have visitors in their apartments, but also make a request 24 hours in advance. But, visitations are starting to get “back to normal,” and Hess said she enjoys seeing residents socializing again.
“I mean, being able to hug people again surely is incredible,” Hess said, adding that after such prolonged isolation, “being able to be back with their families and back with their friends and back in activities and singing together and exercising together and craft, making crafts together has been such a blessing, and things that we all take for granted.”
Elizabeth Randolph is a freelance writer from Columbus.