Rallying Around Each Other
Our strength as a family has risen to a level that is beyond exceptional. We’ve learned, adapted, and grown together. Holiday Retirement communities have always been about connection, and while physical distancing has been immensely difficult, it hasn’t broken our bonds. In fact, they’re stronger.
With group activities on hold, associates are bringing the fun to residents. Anniversaries and birthdays are being commemorated with decorations, special meals, and surprises. Neighbors compete for raffle tickets and candy bars in Doorway Bingo. Healthy movement takes place through exercise classes from doorways and balconies. Theme days encourage associates and residents to dress up and are accompanied by themed snacks and activities. We’re having balloon tosses from balconies, hallway golf from doorways, and courtyard concerts, and creating post-COVID bucket lists and gratitude boards. Doorway artwork and balcony decorating contests are big hits, as well as physical distancing scavenger hunts and gardening projects. The list is endless and continues to grow.
“I think in some ways we’re doing a better job enhancing residents’ lives now than we did pre-COVID,” said Lisa Gaudioso, vice president of corporate operations. “We have activity carts. We’re knocking on doors. Some of our residents who tend to stay a little more isolated are now engaging with our team in a different way.”
Residents have shined during this time as well, and in many cases, they’ve been our greatest teachers. These unusual circumstances have created opportunities for talents and skills to find new life and be shared with others. We’ve turned our traditional model of activities upside down, with residents taking the lead on many. We distribute a daily newsletter with content about staying positive, which includes inspirational quotes and sayings, activities, games, jokes, and tech tutorials for accessing apps and web-based content. Though the content was first created by our central office, residents have made it their own, filling it with their own short stories, jokes, poems, and ideas.
The hallway has proven to create a revitalized sense of community with nearby neighbors. There are newly formed relationships for those close in proximity. We’re seeing neighbors serenading each other or playing instruments from doorways. Some are taking to the intercom to share words of encouragement and stories. Others are writing song lyrics and poems and posting them on their doors. Our communities are home to editors, musicians, poets, artists, literary buffs, dancers, writers, and teachers, and they’re sharing their passions.
Our local communities have rallied around residents and associates. Donations of special meals, flowers, and treats are a regular occurrence. Car parades of church members, the Shriners, classic car clubs, and even Harley and Davidson motorcycles are window-viewing favorites. We’ve had high school students design coloring pages for residents and share poems they’ve written via video. Strangers have written personalized notes of encouragement to residents. People have shared messages of hope through sidewalk chalk, stood outside with signs thanking associates for their service, and performed strolling concerts around the community grounds. The community spirit and sense of solidarity is palpable.
Reopening Our Dining Rooms
A “new normal” also means a new dining room setup. We’re starting with a combined meal service of delivery and dining room services. Our newly arranged dining rooms meet all social distancing protocols.
Dining room use is determined by the infectious disease stage of the community and local regulations. If restaurants in the local area can open with 25% capacity, our dining rooms will open with a corresponding phase of our plan. Local and state regulations on social gathering specific to seniors are followed at all times.
Dining rooms are opening with partial seating of residents in the dining room while maintaining social distancing and serving meals safely. We are reopening them in three stages. In the first stage, seating is limited to 10 people to comply with maximum social gathering guidelines. Seating is limited to one resident per table or two residents for those who live in the same apartment. Spacing is at least six feet. For now, dining room service is operating on a reservations-only system and is scheduled by our resident experience coordinators.
Starting Small Group Activities
Activities take place with smaller groups, while practicing physical distancing. We’ve found smaller groups allow for more intimate, less intimidating, and greater participation from all members. Hearing in smaller groups is also easier. They’re centered more on engaging conversation and achievement, not just being entertained or passive in nature.
Using Telehealth Services
We’ve provided residents 24/7 access to a national network of healthcare providers through MeMD telehealth services. MeMD provides affordable, fast, safe care via phone, computer, or mobile device. Virtual visits with medical professionals are provided in the comfort and safety of residents' apartments. This helps residents receive care faster, without the waiting and potential exposure to contagious illnesses that can come with an office visit.
Making Move-Ins Safe
People are moving into our independent living communities, and all communities are following a COVID-19 move-in checklist. This includes steps such as regulating movers with temperature checks, ensuring proper PPE, and moving furniture directly into apartments through patio doors when possible, instead of through the front door of the building. New residents quarantine for 14 days with enhanced onboarding from our associates who are using creative ways to make sure they feel welcomed, comfortable, and part of the community.
Offering Virtual Tours
We’re offering customized virtual tours to keep current and new residents safe. Associates create a personalized video that guides prospective residents through an apartment, common areas, and outside grounds. Virtual tours are a safe and convenient way to get a feel for a future home. We’re using DocuSign for new leases, so future residents can sign necessary move-in documents without in-person contact. In some instances, future residents can window-shop at communities with external tours in addition to the virtual tour.
Leveraging Communication Tools
We’ve learned how to communicate across communities more efficiently. During COVID-19, we’ve moved our communication processes forward even more. Managing communities from a single location helps us put more resources and funds into communities.
We’re also well-prepared for the expected surge in technology use by seniors. COVID-19 has forced many older adults to become more savvy with technology in order to stay connected with loved ones. We have the tools in place to manage increasing use of iPads, smartphones, and laptops. “When 50-110 residents have smartphones, our infrastructure will be prepared to handle that load,” said Derek D'Alessandro, vice president of information technology. “We have the pieces in place to continue to deal with the increased network traffic at our communities.”
Associates helped coordinate video chats and visits from windows and balconies between residents and loved ones, so they could stay connected while adhering to physical distancing recommendations.
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