By Tony Hooker
There can be no doubt that the pandemic has hit all of us, hard.
There can also be no doubt that those who live in senior and memory care facilities have been hit harder than most. With that in mind, I recently caught up with Angela Russell who, as Executive director of Carriage Crossing Senior living in Arcola, is an expert in the field of senior care.
What’s been the most drastic change, the hardest thing for you to overcome during the pandemic?
Isolation. Isolation for my residents and even myself. You can’t see your grandkids or your children. When we were able to be open, we had all types of events and entertainment that came in, and we can’t have any of that. That’s the worst thing. There’s a thing called failure to thrive, and that occurs when you’ve just lost all hope.
What sort of strategies have you come up with to combat that?
We’ve done facetime and Zoom. We’re able to pull in different family members to visit with our residents. Still, that’s challenging, especially for our residents who are used to using technology. As far as games and activities, we’re doing hallway bingo and hallway exercise and hallway bunko. <laughs>
Are your residents not able to gather in groups at all?
No, we are not. We had an outbreak exactly the way the news predicted. It was right after Thanksgiving. We had a resident who went to physical therapy outside our building and to a doctor’s appointment outside our building. We were very cautious, because we had gone ten months without any cases, no residents, no employees, no one had tested positive, and five residents on our assisted living side came down with COVID at the same time. So, we’ve not been able to offer communal dining.
Angela, how do you anticipate this moving forward? Have you been given any sort of guidelines or timelines from the IDPH? Do you have any sense of when things will start swinging back toward normal?
The Illinois Department of Public Health actually sent me an email this morning, so we’ve been very fortunate here. We’ve all gotten our vaccines. The information I’ve gotten is that 7 to 10 days after you’ve received the second vaccine, your antibodies will be built up to the point that you’ve got a 95 percent chance of not getting COVID-19. That is going to open things up a bit, but we still have to abide by what IDPH tells us what we can and can’t do. Since we’ve gone back a tier in our area and inside dining is allowed, we’re going to allow inside visits again with families. That’s like the lifeline. It was like we were in a boat, on the ocean, rocking and rolling and someone threw us a lifeline. Our residents have hope again that they’ll be able to see their family members. Can you imagine being 98 years old and not being able to see your loved ones?
Tell me a little a bit about these hallway activities? What is hallway bingo?
They (the residents) love it. They set up their tables in the hallway and we’ve got microphones and we play bingo and they win a bunch of money! <laughs> You’ll get a kick out of this. I have one hall in our community that I call the party cove! They’re the ones that were sharing stuff across the halls, having a great old time. This pandemic didn’t stop them!
That’s strength of character there.
It sounds like you’ve got some characters amongst your residents, also. Has that helped to keep the mood up?
Yes, it’s given them purpose and something to do. Busy hands, happy heart. It’s something that I’ve been preaching all along. They really enjoy doing stuff.
Do you think the floor leaders, or instigators <laughing> if you want to call them that have helped you keep spirits up?
It’s definitely helped keep their spirits up, because we’re a need driven business. When you need us, you need us yesterday. That’s why we still had people moving in during the pandemic. We had people moving into our communities because when they need us, they need us now.
Is there anything I’ve missed? Anything you’d like to add, Angela?
Wear your facemasks. You’re protecting the elderly. No one wants to do it, but just follow the guidelines, because it’s this generation who is most susceptible.
Do you have a timeline for when you’ll be starting in person visits?
I think we should be able to start them this next week. Some of our residents haven’t been able to hold their grandbabies since last March.