The Highlands management team prepared holiday platters that were delivered to residents in the absence of a holiday party this year due to the coronavirus pandemic. Contributed photo

BRUNSWICK — Most senior living facility residents who normally look forward to a visit from loved ones during the holidays will have to settle for virtual visits this week due to the coronavirus pandemic. But staff at the facilities are trying to bring what cheer they can to a holiday season unlike any other in recent memory.

This holiday will be different for all of us, said Chelsie Mitchell, executive director of The Highlands in Topsham, a retirement community with more than 420 residents.

“It’s been tough, and we’ve had to get creative because we are in a situation currently when our residents’ families are not able to come into the community for visits,” Mitchell said. “So we’ve really had to think outside the box about how we connect residents with their family virtually and how we still celebrate holidays … and create this message of being alone together.”

In the absence of a holiday party, the Highlands management delivered holiday platters and wine glasses to residents to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Highlands with a virtual champagne toast via Zoom. Staff also filmed a parody video called “12 Months of COVID” for residents.

“We have had to find a way to connect the residents to their loved ones,” Mitchell said. “We’ve been doing a lot of tutorials … and teaching residents how to use Zoom so they can connect through forums like Zoom and FaceTime.”

The Highlands can’t forbid residents from leaving the campus to visit with family, but most residents have opted to stay put due to the high risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“They’re following the rules we’ve implemented based on (Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines,” Mitchell said. The Highlands has only had one case of COVID-19 during the pandemic, she said.

Long-term care facilities have been especially vulnerable to COVID-19 outbreaks. About two-thirds of the 292 Mainers who have died with COVID-19 were long-term care residents, according to Dr. Dora Anne Mills, MaineHealth’s chief health improvement officer, the Portland Press Herald reported on Dec. 14.

Sunnybrook Senior Living in Brunswick has also worked to bring residents joy during this holiday season, despite not allowing visitors. They got their own Sunnybrook Elf on a Shelf named Rona, said Jennifer Hastings, the vice president of marketing for NorthBridge Companies. NorthBridge owns Sunnybrook and Avita of Brunswick, serving residents with memory loss.

The Elf on a Shelf tradition is based on a children’s book. The elves observe children before reporting back to Santa on who is naughty and move around at night while the children sleep.

Residents at Sunnybrook Senior Living in Brunswick have kept their holiday cheer this year in part with their own Elf on a Shelf named Rona, which had to quarantine for 14 days before the elf could be turned loose to watch over residents. Contributed photo

Both Avita and Sunnybrook normally have holiday parties. This year they will have socially distanced gift exchanges and gatherings with staff dressed as Santa and Mrs. Claus. Sunnybrook also has a group of resident carolers who will perform while physically distanced. The nature of a community setting helps combat isolation, Hastings said.

Like The Highlands, Sunnybrook and Avita offer video conferences and other online options for families to visit with residents this holiday.

Hastings said there is light at the end of the tunnel knowing assisted care facilities like Sunnybrook will get some of the first vaccinations against COVID-19. Those vaccination clinics haven’t been scheduled yet.

“For now residents are in high spirits and doing well,” Hastings said, “so it will be a wonderful upcoming holiday.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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