The Residences at Orchard Grove helps seniors feel safe during pandemic

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By Lauren Schiffman, Contributing Writer 

Residents enjoy playing Bingo in safe way.

Shrewsbury – More than half of coronavirus deaths in Massachusetts have been individuals who live in long-term care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living communities. 

However, one assisted living community already had a contingency plan in place by the time it needed to be executed and is proud to report that no resident has fallen ill from the virus. The task force at The Residences at Orchard Grove in Shrewsbury, composed of various disciplines, solidified a plan to minimize staff and resident exposure to the virus.

“Senior living communities typically have a foundation in place to deal with a fast-spreading illness, irrespective of crises like this one. We doubled down,” said Ted Doyle, a community spokesperson.

Such measures were myriad; they included closing off the building’s entries and requiring that visitors to the community follow strict protocols to be allowed in. All non-emergency maintenance was paused, and packages delivered to the community had to be left in a receptacle at designated times and sanitized prior to distribution. 

Caregivers who provide support with ADLs (activities of daily living, like bathing, dressing and the like) adopted extremely diligent hand washing protocols, regularly changed gloves and wore masks at all times. Staff who fell ill with COVID-like symptoms were sent home immediately and continued to receive pay during their two-week quarantine. 

Communal dining areas were shut down, and culinary staff served residents three meals daily in their apartments.

“We were very strict about commingling,” said Doyle. 

But he and his team had to use creativity to minimize residents’ feelings of isolation. They created ways for residents to socialize from their doorways, a newly-utilized distancing mechanism.

Residents enjoy playing Bingo in safe way.

“This was really hard to do,” Doyle said. “Our mission as a community is to rescue people from isolation, and here we were suddenly enforcing isolation. It’s been counter to our mission… but we give a ton of credit to Orchard Grove (associates) who were really diligent and made this happen while caring for seniors. They kept them engaged with smiles on their faces,” he added.

Each day, residents receive baskets that include puzzles, links to iPad programs, reading materials, news synopses and other treats. 

“This has been such a success that we’re implementing it as part of daily life,” Doyle said. 

Doorway activities like Bingo, trivia, exercise and history lectures keep residents engaged yet socially distant. Residents with musical skills have also showcased those talents from afar. 

“We’ve been encouraging people to use FaceTime, Skype, or other platforms to communicate with their families and friends,” Doyle noted and several iPads were purchased to help foster those connections. 

Birthdays and other special occasions like Mother’s Day have been celebrated via technology so families can virtually honor their loved ones who live at Orchard Grove. 

Caregivers have been spending extra time with residents in their apartments to foster socialization and have even been coached on how to guide conversations. 

Despite the measures to protect residents’ health and safety, there was some initial pushback; some residents and families felt they were extreme. However, as the pandemic progressed, “We got a lot of thank yous,” said Doyle. 

Residents enjoy playing Bingo in safe way.

“The solidarity our families have shown us has been unbelievable,” he added.

Shrewsbury resident Dan Vinton, whose parents both live at The Residences at Orchard Grove, said that he was impressed with the community’s safety measures and precautions. 

“As inconvenient and difficult these restrictions have been…the consequences could have been catastrophic” without them, he said.  

The success of the contingency plan implementation has enabled Orchard Grove to slowly begin phase one of reopening. Doyle explained that the community is using an abundance of caution and is purposefully lagging behind the commonwealth as a guide. Phase one will include a limited reopening for lunch and the start of socially distant visits via porches and through windows in designated outdoor areas.  

Doyle said that the success of implementing the safety measures reflects the “vigilance of our staff and executive director. This was not easy for them and runs counter to everything we do to keep people healthy and to help them feel like part of a community.” 

Staff continued to show up for work each day despite overriding health concerns and quickly changed gears.

“It speaks to their dedication,” Doyle said, “that they’re willing to do this very hard thing to protect people. These folks showed up to work in a very uncertain situation, responded with compassion” and focused on their responsibilities to the residents.

“Family members are asking how the associates are and thanking them for going to work every day. That’s incredibly touching to me,” he added. 

Photos/submitted