Residents of Blue Harbor Senior Living in Clovis don’t leave their apartments much anymore.
It’s hard to blame them or their caretakers.
Seniors have long been identified as amongst the most vulnerable to the deadly disease caused by the novel coronavirus, COVID-19.
It has led to their lives fundamentally changing in the midst of an age when terms like “social distancing” and “shelter-in-place” have become part of the public’s daily lexicon.
Just the way that those living in these communities interact with family and friends has dramatically shifted, says Blue Harbor Community Relations Director Hannah Cunnings.
“All of the things that we do to engage with family members, we have had to switch to digital ways of doing that or six feet through the window for visitations, things like that. Those are the big ticket items that have affected the day-to-day life of our residents.”
One of the biggest ways that family visitations has changed is the lack of one-on-one interaction during meal time.
Blue Harbor has a restaurant-style dining area, where in the past, before COVID-19, residents could sit comfortably with loved ones and visit while enjoying a nice meal.
“Well that has changed where our dining room is actually closed because of social distancing and keeping people apart,” Cunning says. “We have been delivering all of their meals to their apartment. Three times a day, that is what our staff is doing instead of in the dining room.”
In fact, much of what residents do is now in or just outside of their apartments.
Whereas residents would previously sit in close proximity to play bingo and card games or participate in exercise programs, they now take part in activities led by staff members in a fashion that allows for social distancing.
“Instead of exercise class, we are going from room to room and doing hallway exercises with them. Or instead of playing card games and bingo and things like that, we go into the hallways and give them different things to do and activities and bring games and scavenger hunts and things like that,” Cunnings says, “It has totally changed their daily lives 100 percent”
What makes it easier is the seniors ability to understand that the situation is unprecedented in modern times, Cunnings says.
“Honestly, 99 percent of our residents on a daily basis will tell us ‘this is different. We know this is hard. We are looking forward to things going back to normal when they can, but please don’t change what you guys are doing because it’s working and we know you guys are working really hard to protect us and we really appreciate it’.”
But assisted living facilities are just one part of the equation when it comes to how senior citizens have been affected by the virus.
Senior activity centers have all but shut down completely in the midst of the pandemic, says Amy Hance, General Services Manager for the city of Clovis.
As of now, because senior activity centers such as Clovis Senior Activity Center are classified by the state of California as non-essential, virtually all programs it runs have been canceled.
Line dancing, educational opportunities, tax and forms assistance, leisurely activities and a host of other recreational offerings are all on hold as California works through the different stages of the Resilience roadmap to reopening businesses.
The Clovis Senior Activity Center would also offer a hot lunch to all of its visitors funded by a grant from the Fresno-Madera Agency on Aging, but since COVID-19 started, all of that stopped. And since seniors aren’t permitted to be in the actual senior center facility, Hance knew that that need needed to be filled somehow.
“The folks that used to come here and get a hot meal were given a choice. They could either defer it and not get it, or have a package of frozen meals delivered once a week,” Hance says. “Anybody that was eating a hot lunch here had the opportunity to have frozen meals delivered to their home once a week. So that part of our program got taken care of.”
Two weeks ago, Hance says, Clovis started using some of the money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act passed by the United States Congress in March to provide and deliver meals prepared by local restaurants.
Each weekday, volunteers deliver meals to mobile home parks or senior housing developments. Seniors are assigned one day a week on which they will have the meal delivered.
Hance says the goal is to deliver 400 meals a day, and as contactless as can be with senior citizens.
“It’s very hard to do because if you ring the doorbell, they’re going to come to the door pretty quick because they want to talk and they’re hungry for human interaction,” Hance says.
The staff members help meet some of those needs for human interaction just by making some good old-fashioned phone calls. And at the same time, they use the calls to simply keep in contact with the seniors that they had been used to seeing on a daily basis.
“Once we shut our doors and weren’t able to see our normal people everyday or have contact with them every day, we knew that there would be a lot of confusion and a lot of questions. We needed to create a way to maintain contact with the folks that we normally see,” Hance adds.
The senior center signed one of its full-time staff members to call everyone that is in the nearly 4,000 person database to chat for 15 to 20 minutes if that’s what was needed.
All in an effort to make sure that the people that they have grown so accustomed to seeing daily are still hanging in there.
“We’ll leave a message and put a little check mark by them and call them again in a day or two just to make sure,” Hance says. “Some people we hear from and some people we don’t. Sometimes they don’t call us back but I will tell you that most do call us back.”