With seniors among the most vulnerable to the spread of the coronavirus, retirement communities are having to step up their efforts to keep residents safe. The real trick, though, lies in not just keeping residents safe but in maintaining a sense of normalcy within such communities.
One community that has managed to meet those two objectives is Hibiscus Court of Melbourne, where the new normal can best be described as a virtual normal. For example, in place of personal visits from family members, Hibiscus Court is conducting virtual visits using video conferencing software such as Zoom.
“We’ve all seen the viral posts of people meeting at windows, and we started with that, but we’ve actually found that it’s better for our residents and their families to have these meetings through Zoom,’’ says Charisse Durham, director of sales and marketing at Hibiscus Court of Melbourne.
“So what we’re doing is teaching the families how to use the Zoom technology, and once we’ve done that, we set up a Zoom meeting for them. During that visit, we are there with the resident to help them navigate through it or translate if they have any trouble hearing or seeing their family members. It’s working out really well.”
Another example of the new virtual normal at Hibiscus Court of Melbourne took place last week, when the community changed up its regular Rolling With Laughter event. When the Hibiscus comedy troupe, “Off Their Rockers” had to cancel its event, the community held a virtual Rolling with Laughter event.
“We accepted submissions from residents, family members, referral sources and care partners,” Charisse explains. “All of them sent in different jokes and we had several different showings for small groups where our programming director and residents presented the jokes.
“It went over very well, and for some of our residents who could not attend one of the showings, we went to their rooms and shared the jokes with them individually. We also printed some of the jokes that were short and sweet and took photos of our residents with the joke and a smile then posted them on our Facebook page to share them that way.”
One of the biggest challenges retirement communities now face comes at meal time, when residents typically gather en masse to dine and socialize. Social distancing guidelines prohibit such mass gatherings, however, so at Hibiscus Court of Melbourne, residents are now served the same meals they would receive in the dining room in their own suites or in small, adequately spaced common areas.
That said, socializing is not a thing of the past at Hibiscus Court of Melbourne. Just as it did with its comedy show, the community now conducts several exercise and activity periods each day where small groups of six residents gather and participate while maintaining a safe social distance from one another.
“Another thing we did recently was hold a virtual 99th birthday party for one of our residents,’’ Charisse explains. “We also had a no-contact pet parade, where local participants came and walked their dogs around our parking lot and we let our residents know so they could watch from their rooms or at a safe distance.”
It’s not just the residents of Hibiscus Court of Melbourne who are getting special attention during these difficult times. The community’s staff members, who are working extra hard each day to ensure residents are safe and comfortable, have not been forgotten.
“We’ve had families provide lunch for the entire team; other families have sent gourmet caramel apples or bulk boxes of treats,” Charisse reports. “They know our team works tirelessly to provide the best care for their loved ones. Many families’ have taken the opportunity to say thank you. Even though we’re not in a hospital or skilled setting, we are providing health care and life care and many are working additional hours and occasionally double shifts.
“Our leadership team is also committed to thanking our direct caregivers daily with some item of appreciation. Somebody every day is doing something to say thank you to our team, because they know that we’re here trying to protect people and that our care team also has to take additional measures to protect themselves and their families when they leave, because they can’t bring the virus back into our community.
“It’s a difficult time for everyone but everyone is pitching in and doing what they can to help each other out. The dedication to our residents’ care and the creativity in that is truly remarkable. I’m inspired every day.”