Local assisted living facilities were one of the first to take action last year when the COVID-19 virus hit Nebraska, closing their doors to the public and increasing safety precautions to protect the 65 and older residents that were at an increased health risk. With the drastic change in operations, these facilities also had the challenge of keeping residents happy and social from a distance.
Trudy Spicer, the activities director at The Kensington, said routine activities like daily exercise and weekly Bingo were able to be streamed to residents’ televisions through Zoom.
“I would be calling the numbers, and there would be a staff member on each floor when somebody hollered Bingo, so we were able to bring the activity to their floors,” Spicer said. “And we do exercise every morning, but we did encourage the residents even during the COVID to come out of their room to walk around to walk around the mezzanine, come down and get their mail at intervals. They just could not sit and gather down in our building, but we did want them to still get out and move.”
Kailey Mustin, the activities director for Beatrice Health and Rehab, said residents have been tasked with little, safe jobs around the facility so they can feel like they’re contributing, like peeling potatoes and folding laundry.
“A lot of the day has become getting the residents in touch with their families through Zoom calls,” Mustin said. “We were also given quite a few Facebook portals. They’re little screens that I can call the family and get the resident their own Facebook account, and then that’s a way for the residents to connect with their family daily.”
Stacey Gydesen, the assisted living manager at Good Samaritan Society-Samaritan Springs, said residents have been able to communal dine and do activities together following CDC guidelines like social distancing and wearing masks.
“I think you want to limit the isolation that they’re feeling as much as you can,” Gydesen said. “With the front doors technically being locked, we want to make sure that we offer them as much interaction if it’s just with the staff or if it’s with other residents. They’ve been great at adapting what we have to do. They can’t sit as close, and it’s hard to hear sometimes, but I think you have to look at their psychosocial wellbeing and their physical wellbeing. We have to keep them up and moving rather than getting stiff and weak as we sit alone. It’s been a challenge.”
All three facilities have utilized their windows for activities, whether it’s family visits or having the community bring animals or build snowmen for the residents to see.
Spicer noted that the lack of physical contact has been a challenge.
“We’ve had people that have lived here for over 12 years, so they’re really all connected, and it’s really hard for them not to be able to sit down at a table and have a meal together and be able to talk about things and laugh about things,” Spicer said. “That personal touch that people have, like patting your friends on the hand and putting your arm around somebody, all of that personal contact and personal conversation that people are missing.”
Mustin said in a time that has changed so much, they are trying to keep things as normal for the residents as possible.
“We try to communicate with families very often, whether it’s me calling to update them on things that their loved one’s doing, or them calling me and asking me to do little things that they can’t come in and do, such as something as little as trying on a new outfit,” Mustin said. “The daughter will hand me that outfit outside the door, and then I’ll go try it on her and let them know how it goes. Everything is just changed, but we’re trying to keep it the same all at the same time.”
As assisted living staff and residents start to receive the COVID vaccine, activities and visitations are changing again, but this time in a positive way.
Gydesen said it’s been roughly two weeks since all 27 residents and 90% of Samaritan Springs staff has received their second dose of the vaccine. She said they are waiting for clarification and guidance before opening visits again.
“But I would say we are definitely to a point that visitations are much easier than they were say even six months ago. COVID has always been very fluid as far as things changing week to week, sometimes even day to day, but the residents would all agree that we’re at a point now that visitations are coming back with more ease than they have in the past.”
Mustin said roughly 90% of Beatrice Health staff and residents have received the vaccine, and that they are also waiting for more guidance from the CDC.
“I know the numbers are going down drastically, which is wonderful, but I think us as a team just want to see those numbers go down even more before we return to any sort of visitation, as of right now,” Mustin said.
Spicer said the Kensington has started to allow visits again, but with restrictions.
“Two visitors can come at a time, and they go down in our basement in the chapel room that we are not using for anything else, just having that as a visitation room. They have to sit six feet apart, and they have to wear their masks. That’s the rules, and they get a 45 minute visit,” Spicer said. “That has really helped the morale of our residents a lot.”
Mustin thanked the frontline staff workers for keeping residents safe, as well as the community for helping residents stay social.
“This whole experience has been hard on two groups of people, I think, and that’s children and our elderly,” Mustin said. “It’s just been so nice that the community has understood that, and they haven’t forgotten about us, or them, or their families…I think [residents] still want to be a part of the community, and that’s why we’ve tried to do things like the snowmen, celebrating birthdays and making them extra special, community involvement, just making sure they still know that the community knows that they’re still there, and that we need to find a safe solution.”