Tara Blount on right

That one weekend, March 13-14, our vibrant and busy home became quiet, with employees referring to it as “feeling like a ghost town.” Realizing quickly that this was going to last for quite some time, we all had to readjust. 

Social interaction, family support, and community involvement are so important for our seniors; these aspects play vital roles in whether someone thrives in a community-based care setting. 

Soon, our life enrichment directors restructured the usual programs to make more individual activities and to make mobile “grab-and-go” activity kits. 

Ona Secord, a 10-year employee and life enrichment director in our Memory Care area, made “Activity Room Service” request sheets, allowing residents to fill out multiple-choice items that they would like delivered to their apartments, including the option to request additional one-on-one visits for support, questions regarding the current circumstances, or simply to chat and catch up. 

As these options are now limited to calls, video chats and letters, it is more important than ever for seniors to know they have a support system in the individuals caring for them. It is safer for us to gather their shopping lists and make a store run a few times a week than it is for them to get in a cab and go to the store right now. 

We also can help them get set up with an online tax filing program or send pictures to their loved ones.  

Our employees, too, are adjusting to a new normal in their home lives. With children out of school, spouses laid off, and the “Stay Home, Save Lives” order in effect, things are operating very differently in our worlds right now. Staying home and spending extra time with their children in a safe and virus-free atmosphere sounds enticing, but we have seniors who need us to be there for them more than ever right now. 

The staff at Magnolia has always enjoyed a good spirit week, and many of the residents participate as well. Throughout the coming months we’ll be celebrating a lot more of those, in fact a couple a week.

Keep an eye on our Facebook page and you may catch Sharon Evans, a four-year resident of Magnolia Assisted Living, sporting her spirit day attire. Sharon takes every chance she can to make someone smile. Even though she can’t stop by the offices and staff rooms every morning to give us our morning hugs anymore, she’s made sure to catch our attention for an across-the-room “elbow bump” which will just have to suffice during the “6-feet rule” practices. 

For Sharon, her faith is helping her get through this pandemic.

“Daily, in the beginning of the day, I am in the Scriptures to get my focus,” she said. “I know I have friends here and I stay busy and if I see a need the Lord puts in front of me and I can fulfill it, I will.  

“Just to be there for anyone that needs anything, even if it is just to sit quiet with them. I keep the area by my door attractive so people can smile when they walk by.” 

And of course, elbow bumps in lieu of hugs right now, she said. 

“It’s hard; sometimes I have tears, but I have friends here that substitute for them right now,” Sharon said. “Them not being here is my way of keeping them safe from this thing. We talk on the phone, write letters. They send me goodies. They sent me one roll of toilet paper that cost them $8! My daughter-in-law pops in and we can talk from a distance. She brings good homemade bread to me and if I need something from the store, she will get it for me.”

Sharon has been our self-appointed door monitor, with help from another long-term resident, Tom. 

The two of them can be found sitting by the front entrance, wearing masks and keeping the staff informed of incoming deliveries or approaching visitors. 

They are also helping us ensure our hospice workers and other healthcare providers are directed immediately to the screening table each time.

From my office, I can see the two of them working so seamlessly together to help ensure the safety of those in our home and to never let a guest stand out in the cold waiting for the door to be answered. 

It puts a smile on my face and reassurance in my heart every day. 

Tara Blount is Executive Director of Magnolia Gardens Senior Living in Cottage Grove.