As the pandemic coronavirus/COVID-19 affects older populations and those with preexisting conditions most severely, directives from health officials are heeded more strongly and deemed more crucial in senior communities.
On Sunday, March 29, Oregon Health Authority (OHA) reported 69 new cases of COVID-19 from the previous day, bringing the state's total to 548 with 13 deaths, while aggressive measures to curb the trajectory new cases remain in place.
Daily routines have changed dramatically at Mount Angel Towers as staff and caregivers have taken on new approaches to feeding and tending to more than 200 residents. Similarly, adjusted protocols have been established in places like Emerald Gardens and Woodburn Senior Estates and Golf.
Mount Angel Towers
Staff at Mount Angel Towers initially attempted to keep the dining room open by spacing out tables, but that proved inefficient and only marginally effective. So, staff developed a new regimen where workers packaged meals and carted them throughout the multi-story complex and through the halls serving residents at their rooms.
"I was really nervous," said Towers General Manager Tess Aiello. "We normally have a special-of-the-day for brunch...sandwiches, soup, salad bar. But we had to switch to an abbreviated menu with an entre and an alternative. And lots of extras, like yogurt and cheese sticks."
She said food service staff would push a hot cart and a cold cart through the building with prepackaged meals in to-go containers. After each meal, they would route through the premises again, but this time for clean up to ensure containers and scraps aren't piling up in the rooms.
Then it's time to prepare for the next meal.
"They are working so hard. I could not say anything more about our staff. They are amazing," Aiello said. "Some of them have young children at home, and some have older family members, and yet they leave home every day to come help here. The team has just been great."
Beyond the meals, they have served up some midday surprises. One cart came by and served root-beer floats. Another cart provided beverages that were typically served during the daily happy hour, now on hiatus.
Other adjustments have taken place for exercise times, a popular group activity four days a week that's had to be curtailed. The Towers has its TV station, on which they have been programming exercise videos, so residents get a workout in their rooms.
"The ability for them to keep physically fit during this time is very important," Aiello said.
They also make sure to keep a variety of movies are available — especially since social interactions, from within and without, have diminished considerably.
"We've also had to restrict visitation to only essential visitors, and end-of-life and caregivers," Aiello said.
Restricted contact orders have also altered social activities at Emerald Gardens in Woodburn, including visitations, public outings, events and group activities, prompting care gives to engage in creative methods to nourish social well-being .
Technology is playing a key role in ensuring that residents have regular engagement opportunities and connection with loved ones.
"We, here at Emerald Gardens, work diligently every day to assist in the most creative ways possible to keep families connected with their loved ones during this fragile time," Executive Director Tanya Weaver said. "We continue to enrich lives just in a more creative way and have not only utilized resources available, but also devices designed to connect people such as FaceTime and Skype.
"The residents are so intrigued by today's technology that they are actually excited to utilize it and cannot wait to make their next video."
Jenni Bost, a spokeswoman for Radiant Senior Living, Emerald Gardens parent company, noted additional company-wide activities.
"We are doing a Connection Campaign on our Facebook (page) asking local community members to send pictures of letters and drawings that their kids have done or videos with questions for our residents or encouragement," Bost noted. "We, of course, would love handwritten letters and the like as well, but those digital methods could be safe and fun for all."
The staff has implemented these new activities while maintaining vigilance and monitoring on the underlying reason for them: visitation is restricted to medical and state agency personnel only.
Those who do visit have to go through a strict screening that includes:
"It's beautiful to see everyone banding together to do what needs to be done, and doing it with great love and care," said Jodi Guffee, owner and operator of Radiant Senior Living.
Perhaps no local entity is feeling a more widespread effect than Woodburn Senior Estates and Golf, a 55-and-over retirement community consisting of 1508 homes.
"The COVID-19 virus has affected each and every one of us in many ways," said the Estates' Board of Directors President Larry Jones. "At this time, our community center is shut down. This consists of most of our amenities, which include our auditorium, dining hall for bingo, our pool room, library, restaurant, card room, pro shop, swimming pool, spa, and exercise center."
That cuts out a wide swath of activity, for sure. But one key activity remains intact — with restrictions — golf.
"Our golf course is open with restrictions," Jones said. "Our employees are wearing protective gear and keeping a 6-foot distance, and they are working on a deep cleaning in every room where our members congregate.
"We want our members to know they will be safer when they come back than when they left."
On Thursday, March 26, OHA shared a report from the Institute for Disease Modeling in Bellevue, Wash., titled "Working paper: Projected COVID-19 epidemic trends and health system needs for Oregon," which stressed that the state is at "crucial moment in the fight against this disease." That underscores the importance of the social distancing steps taken at the estates.
"Social distancing measures could alter the trajectory of new infections, which gives Oregon's health care system the chance to ramp up to meet the coming surge," the OHA analysis said, adding that there is little room for error an early return to business as usual practices could result in overwhelming hospitals and health care facilities.
If social-distancing measures were abandoned, the state would see an estimated 15,000 cumulative cases by May 8; the potential range is between 5,900 to 26,000 cases. If the measures remain intact, that estimate drops to about 1,000 cases with a 700 to 3,800 range by the same date.
Residents of the estates prefer the latter scenario.
"We're looking forward to when this virus is tamed," Jones said. "We are living with the stay-at-home policy, only venturing out for needed food and supplies. I have talked with a number of people who are using senior-friendly hours and deliveries to do our shopping."
Jones described a scenario where volunteers in protective gear inserted red and green cards into the Homeowners Association newspaper, an idea picked up from another HOA.
"If the green card is in the member's window facing the street, then neighbors will know that they are safe," Jones explained. "If the red card is there in the window, then neighbors will know that neighbor needs help. Then the neighbor will contact them and/or call 911."
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