The elderly have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, with many retirement facilities reeling from the onslaught of the virus. Foothills Retirement Community of Easley, South Carolina, has fared better than most senior communities, thanks to quick action by administrators and staff to protect residents and workers against the virus.
Foothills is a full-service “life plan community” that offers senior living options including active lifestyle independent living, assisted living, memory support, skilled nursing and more for residents over the age of 62. Executive Director Karen Nichols explained the facility’s response.
“When management first saw that this virus was coming to the United States, they started preparing, and each of the communities in the system started gearing up in late February, getting masks on all our staff, introducing social distancing and getting in front of the pandemic.”
Foothills took other steps that allowed it to remain basically COVID-19 free, although two staff members tested positive for the virus in mid-April. The facility screens employees coming into and leaving buildings and screens assisted-living residents twice a day, those in health care four times a day and those in independent living quarters once a day. Visits from families were curtailed, although management issues updates to keep families in the loop as to what is happening at the facility.
“Our chaplain and I speak three times a week with staff and residents via Skype, and residents can always text or email me,” said Nichols. “We have done a lot of faith-based initiatives, Bible studies and talking about holding onto the Scriptures in this troubling time. We have taken a different spin than some communities where loved ones can come to the windows and wave or communicate in some way with residents inside. Our windows are open, and we have discouraged families from coming onto campus. The temptation to open the windows to talk is just too great, and it risks exposing someone to the virus.”
To keep up the morale of the hardworking staff, the facility turned its main dining area into a staff lounge.
“We have T-shirts coming, we play some games, nurses cut out pictures and stick them on their masks. We are just looking for things to perk up people’s feelings every day,” she said.
Raenota Merrill, 79, has been living at Foothills Retirement for two-and-a-half years. While she is naturally worried about the pandemic, she feels safe and has taken proactive measures to keep her fellow residents’ spirits buoyed.
“I feel safe here because of the precautions that were put in place very early and have been increased as the situation has required. I also appreciate that we are kept up to date with any changes. These updates are also sent to family members if a resident asks. It hasn’t been difficult not to see my family because I understand the reason. I keep in touch with them by phone, email, texts, etc., and I participate in my church’s Bible study on Zoom.”
Merrill has even coordinated a project to make masks for staff and residents.
“This has involved quite a few residents over the past months. Personally, I’m working on my to-do list – things that are easy to put off when my schedule is busier.”
She walks several miles a day on the grounds and makes use of the gym.
“While I haven’t been part of arranging it, the use of our in-house TV channel for exercise classes, movies, games and worship has been very helpful,” she said.
“Residents and staff are doing well and families are pleased when we give them notifications about what is going on here,” Nichols said. “About 95% of the feedback is that we are doing a great job. While the staff, like everyone, is fearful at times of the pandemic, they are some of the most courageous people I know.”
By John Torsiello