It’s hard to believe, but it has been more than a year since the terms social distancing, shelter-in-place, and facemasks became a part of our daily lingo and lives. As communities on large and small scales have adjusted to doing what’s necessary and following recommendations for staying safe, these terms and their associated actions have become a normal part of our lifestyle. Although they’ve had to be more physically distant from each other, the goal at Evergreen Village and its sister community Evergreen Place (both located in Normal) has been to keep their residents safe while encouraging them to also stay connected and active.
Focusing on the individual needs of each resident is a long-standing priority for all the facilities within the Heritage Operations Group, which includes these two senior communities that offer supportive and assisted living options. According to Kris Loudenback, director of Evergreen Village Supportive Living, the Evergreen communities are focused more on the hospitality needs and wants of their residents. Medical needs are more the emphasis of other Heritage facilities, which provide long-term care, skilled nursing care, rehabilitation services, and dementia care.
“It’s been a challenging, creative, and crucial task to balance the needs, wants, and safety of residents and staff,” says Loudenback. But she’s proud to say that her staff have risen to the challenge and are doing their best to make sure the residents still know and feel they are still truly part of a community.
“Each day, week, and month has created different challenges for both Evergreen communities,” says Evergreen Place Director Joyce Benton. “Life Enrichment,” celebrating the passions and life histories of residents, is one of the most important tenets of living at Evergreen. During the pandemic, residents have been encouraged to continue to share their gifts and hobbies with their fellow residents. COVID-19 may have changed many things, but the residents still lead vibrant and interesting lives, albeit somewhat modified due to safety protocols.
“The additional safety and activity efforts due to the COVID-19 restrictions also strengthened the positive relationships between staff and residents,” says Benton. This is partially due to the caregiving staff performing extra wellbeing checks with residents to ensure they are staying healthy and happy during the pandemic.
The Challenges of COVID
One of the greatest challenges for the staff at both Evergreen Place and Evergreen Village during the COVID-19 pandemic has been based in a primary reason people live there: they want to be part of a community and to be around other active seniors with similar interests and abilities. “It’s been a challenge—especially during the height of the shelter-in-place—to keep our residents interactive even with the restrictions,” says Loudenback.
Like most of us, seniors have a desire and need to interact with other people, but simply due to their age and declining immune systems, they are in a higher risk category for contracting the coronavirus and might have more difficulty recovering.
Not being able to visit family in person has been a particularly difficult scenario for the seniors. During the shelter-in-place from March to June, families were able to do window visits, and the staff would often help set up Facetime and Skype calls. As the restrictions allowed, families could schedule in-person visits in the outdoor areas, while using precautions such as facemasks and social distancing.
Evergreen Village resident Fontella Haycraft says she looks forward to the time when she can visit with her family and spend more time with her grandchildren. She also wants to be able to attend in-person church services again. In the meantime, Haycraft stays busy by supporting her church through committee work and fundraising efforts that she is able to do over the phone. When she isn’t volunteering for her church, she enjoys having time to read and staying informed about current events.
During the shelter-in-place, staff delivered a themed snack every weekday to each apartment, as well as puzzle packs that included word searches, reading material, and crossword puzzles. They also held competitions to win small prizes by drawing names from among those who completed the puzzle of the day.
Evergreen values independence and choice, so residents were not mandated to stay in their apartments. But because of the higher risks associated with coronavirus, the staff encouraged any resident who had to or chose to leave the building to isolate for 72 hours once they returned, whether it was for a doctor’s appointment or a family gathering. “We offered advice and tried to educate our residents about the risks of being out in public, and they were encouraged to manage their own isolation,” says Loudenback. Residents are still cautious about their activities and interactions, but they enjoy getting to socialize when they can do so safely.
“When all this started, Heritage as an organization jumped on the COVID restrictions very early to prevent any spread of the disease. We had training on handwashing, PPE (personal protective equipment), and other regulations,” says Loudenback. “As a result, in addition to our residents really being careful about their own activities, we have been very healthy at Evergreen Village.”
Once the state and region moved to Phase 3 of the Restore Illinois plan, both Evergreen communities were able to open additional activities, following not only the state guidelines, but the long-term care community guidelines, which are even more stringent.
Some activities have restarted. Bingo was a popular activity for residents prior to the shutdown, with 30–40 participating at one time. Those numbers are still not allowed per the social distancing and crowd size parameters, but it’s available for smaller groups. The dining room is now open for lunch service, allowing residents to reserve a time and see others at the same time. About half the residents are coming to the dining room; the rest are still ordering off the same specially-crafted menu as those in the dining room. The staff deliver those meals to the individual’s apartment. Indoor visits in common areas are now allowed, but no apartment visits as yet.
In the fall, they were able to do tours of local areas to see the fall colors by limiting the number of participants to five, doing shorter trips so they could fit in more tours, and sanitizing the bus between each trip.
The holidays are always special to the residents, but with the restrictions in place, the usual celebrations had to be modified. Despite not being able to see family for the holidays, Evergreen Place resident Jack Gooding said he was happy to spend the time with his Evergreen family. “I have many friends here,” said Gooding.
With winter weather making outside activities less of an option, the staff has come up with additional ways to keep connected while staying safe. These include fitness videos that residents can view in their apartments on their own TVs. Gooding said his favorite activity right now is the “Sit and Be Fit” program that he is able to do safely in his apartment. Evergreen team members even order library books from the Normal Public Library that get dropped off for residents like Haycraft who enjoy passing the time with a good book.
“We are trying to find that perfect balance of providing activities to keep our residents interactive and feeling like they are part of a community while still following the guidelines and restrictions to keep everyone safe,” says Loudenback.
Although some activities are still not possible, other activities are allowed and scheduled as time allows. For instance, people who play guitar or piano can come in to entertain residents in small groups. Evergreen Village resident Loma McCormick enjoys tickling the ivories when the piano isn’t in use as a way to stay busy and share her love for music with other residents.
She is not the only musician in the house. Gooding, who has played the clarinet since 3rd grade, now plays music from his apartment for the other residents to hear and enjoy. He opens his apartment door and other residents do the same as they hear the music begin to float down the hall. Like Haycraft, Gooding looks forward to visiting his family and attending church services, but is enjoying the various activities provided by the Evergreen team.
Other residents spend time writing poetry, sewing, and crocheting. Sandi Cullers, who lives at Evergreen Village, recently obtained a new sewing machine and enjoys spending time each day sewing.
“Overall, our residents are doing well in a less-than-ideal situation,” says Loudenback. “We have encouraged socialization while still following the protocols that have been established.” She has been using a weekly newsletter to share information about COVID-19 as well as advice, all while keeping the overall tone light. “We can give advice, but we can’t force people to do or not do certain activities. But as difficult as it is, everyone understands and does what’s needed.”
“I am thankful that I have a place to live that has helped me stay safe,” says Haycraft. “I recognize this [time] has not been easy for the staff and I know they work hard to support the residents.”
Although the residents at Evergreen Village Supportive Living and Evergreen Place Assisted Living have had to make adjustments to their social interactions during the COVID-19 pandemic, they are content to be “isolating together” as much as possible. Loudenback and the rest of the staff continue to ensure safe gatherings. “We’re working hard to make sure our residents have as much socialization as we can. That’s one of the reasons they came here to live.”
2021 Brings Much To Celebrate
Evergreen Village Supportive Living is excited to break ground in fall of 2021 for a new Memory Care Community. This two-story addition will be built on the back side of Evergreen Village’s current building and will be connected by a hallway. The new Memory Care community will feature 40 studio apartments, 20 on each floor. The two levels will mirror each other as each will have a kitchen, dining room area, and living areas where residents can gather in the future. Both floors will be secure to ensure resident safety. Each level will have a unique outdoor feature: the first floor will feature a courtyard and the second will have an outdoor sunroom.
“As the only supportive living community in McLean County, we are excited to be given the opportunity to offer memory care services to residents who will be using Medicaid to supplement their payment options,” says Loudenback.
Evergreen Place is also looking forward to 2021, when they celebrate their 20th anniversary in July. As the first licensed assisted living community in the area, they look forward to many more years of serving seniors and their families.
For more information about Evergreen Village or Evergreen Place, visit www.EvergreenSLC.com.