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St. Louis Area Assisted Living Facilities Get Creative to Foster Community During the Pandemic
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St. Louis Area Assisted Living Facilities Get Creative to Foster Community During the Pandemic

There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has presented unbelievable challenges for assisted living communities everywhere. The metro area’s top-notch assisted living teams have faced these challenges head-on with fresh, fun and innovative initiatives to keep care (and spirits) high.

“I think the key during the pandemic is being able to adapt, modify and go with the flow, and continue to have the same high standards and expectations as pre-COVID,” says Sarah Vinson, corporate director of life enrichment at Cedarhurst Senior Living, headquartered in Clayton. “One of the many things we are doing is relying on humor. Our communities are dressing silly, creating crazy-themed carts, wearing different costumes and hats, having dance parties in the hall, knocking on resident doors telling jokes. There is a lot of humor and fun going on to keep spirits up. You don’t lose your sense of humor when you age, so that’s something that has been important for us at Cedarhurst – really promoting being silly and a lot of themed days focusing on holidays (and not just big holidays).”

Nontraditional holidays celebrated at Cedarhurst have included National Nacho Day, World Smile Day, National Trivia Day and World Kindness Day, to name a few.

“The different activities will focus on the theme,” Vinson says. “If there is a positive exposure to the community, we pivot our life enrichment activities to align with the communities’ COVID-19 level, per state and local health official guidelines. It is important that life enrichment doesn’t stop during these unprecedented times, and instead, we modify how we do it.”

University City’s McKnight Place Assisted Living & Memory Care is similarly taking to themes.

“When we knew that the residents were going to be in their apartments and couldn’t gather for group activities, we wanted the activities to remain engaging and interesting,” says Lesley Pedroli, director of leasing at McKnight Place. “We developed a weekly theme to keep things fresh, new and exciting for our residents. We offer lots of in-room events based on [each] theme, including discussions, trivia games, art projects, music and specialty snacks or drinks.  Every Monday, we offer a specialty cocktail cart that offers a fun cocktail or mocktail [inspired by] our theme to kick off the week.”

Vinson says residents have also been reveling in long-term projects like cross-stitching, rock painting and wreath-making, to name a few.

“Long-term projects have been meaningful and therapeutic during this time,” Vinson says. “Before COVID, residents would gather in the activity room and have a craft project that would be completed during that activity time, but we’ve found, if we give them something that takes a longer period of time to do, then it’s something to look forward to and they can come back to that the next day and as they choose. Having that sense of accomplishment has been really important.”

What has taken priority, though, is socialization of residents due to visitor restrictions.

“They are so used to their loved ones coming and going in the community anytime they wanted and potentially visiting daily or weekly, and for many of our residents, they might not understand why their family is no longer coming,” says Carmen Fronczak, chief strategy officer of Friendship Village Chesterfield and Friendship Village Sunset Hills. “So just finding as many creative ways as we can to provide that regular, constant contact and always being accessible if someone wants to FaceTime or whatever that might be.”

McKnight Place recommends ViewClix, which is “smart frame” technology that allows family members to directly share photos with residents, in addition to the ability to video chat.

“I think the biggest thing is all about maintaining the connection,” Pedroli says. “I am one of those family members now who has a parent I can’t see in person or hug. Just the empathy that I feel for our own families is very strong, [and it’s important] that we also keep the families engaged. We are working very hard to keep residents happy and healthy.”

And despite the hardships COVID-19 has caused, Fronczak believes residents and their families alike appreciate the extra efforts.

“I think, while it has been hard, they have been patient, understanding and, of course, really appreciative of our staff,” Fronczak says. “I think we are all very hopeful that there is a new page or that we are turning the corner to a new day.” 

Cedarhurst Senior Living, multiple locations, 855-928-3401, cedarhurstliving.com

Friendship Village Chesterfield, 15201 Olive Blvd., Chesterfield, 636-255-8281; Friendship Village Sunset Hills, 12563 Village Circle Drive, Sunset Hills, 314-635-9281; friendshipvillagestl.com

McKnight Place Assisted Living & Memory Care, Three McKnight Place, St. Louis; 314-993-3333, mcknightplace.com

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Alecia is a freelance writer based in the metro area. Fueled by coffee and faith, Alecia is a wifey, boy mom and fur mama to two, enjoying this crazy thing called life one moment at a time.

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