Life for residents at senior living communities in Seaside and elsewhere has changed dramatically over the past couple weeks as facilities continue ramping up health and safety protocols and guidelines in response to COVID-19.

“It hasn’t gotten easier in the senior living world right now,” Thomas Cloutier, vice president of sales and marketing for Avamere Health Services, said. “There’s still that fear out there because it could quickly impact our residents and people we love and take care of.”

Seaside has three senior living communities that offer housing and services : Suzanne Elise Assisted Living and Avamere at Seaside — managed by Avamere — and Neawanna by the Sea.

Since March, the facilities have adopted numerous changes in an effort to curb the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading to vulnerable senior citizens. Social programs, events and activities are on hold, and none of the communities are allowing outside visitors, in line with Gov. Kate Brown's order, except for end-of-life situations. Even then, safety protocols are more extreme. With on-site dining facilities temporarily closed, residents now eat alone in their rooms instead of with peers, which is “not ideal,” Cloutier said.

“Part of the reason you live in assisted living or memory care or independent living is the socialization,” he added.

For the protection of staff and residents, Avamere procured extra personal protective equipment for everyone to wear on campus. While the company can’t control what staff members do when they’re off the clock, Cloutier said, they are aware following social distancing requirements implemented at the national and state level is critical for the health and safety of the residents — and currently, there have been no reported cases of the coronavirus at either of Avamere’s facilities.

The company also recently completed a major renovation at Avamere at Seaside and was preparing to open its independent living housing, which includes 41 apartments for seniors looking to retire on the coast. Now, the grand opening is postponed and depositors are unable to move in, which was a disappointment for Avamere, as “everyone is excited to open that,” Cloutier said.

Above and beyond

Although the situation has challenged both residents and staff, it’s also created opportunities for caregivers to develop creative solutions for meeting the social, physical and intellectual needs of seniors within each community.

“People have gone above and beyond to make it as normal as possible given the circumstances,” Cloutier said.

They’ve implemented a communication software called LifeLoop, designed for senior living communities and helps connect families, staff and residents. Cloutier said it keeps people “in the know and engaged in what’s going on in the community,” as well as streamlining communication and boosting life enrichment services. Other solutions have required a touch of creativity and extra effort, such as one-on-one reading or exercise sessions with residents.

Avamere is using social media to celebrate its “#AvamereHeroes,” or staff members who are going above and beyond to serve residents and mitigate the hardship engendered by the current public health crisis. Recently, they featured Hannah Voelker, the life enrichment director at Avamere at Seaside. A social media post praises Voelker’s natural creativity for bringing new activities to residents and setting up phone calls and video chats.

Walt Plummer, a health care coordinator who has served the senior living community for nearly 10 years, is noted for picking up shifts to ensure care, his sense of humor and worth ethic.

On April 11, a group of community members from the Seaside area organized a vehicle parade that started at Suzanne Elise and then passed by Neawanna by the Sea, Providence Seaside Hospital, the Columbia Memorial Hospital clinic at the Seaside Outlet Mall, the Seaside Fire Department and the Seaside Police Department. Participants held signs letting residents and patients know they aren’t forgotten and expressing appreciation for those on the frontlines of combatting the pandemic, such as emergency responders and health care professionals. Honking, balloons, smiles and music were also on display.

“It was great fun for all that participated, and we heard from care facilities and hospital staff that they really appreciated it,” said Shirley Smith-Yates, who helped organize the parade.

The expressions of community spirit go both ways, however. On April 24, Suzanne Elise hosted a drive-thru barbecue for essential workers from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.

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