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The Challenge: Ensuring ongoing communication between residents or community-based clients and their families or friends, despite strict visitor restrictions. Members on the ground are solving problems in real time.

Member Story #31: Residents Share Wisdom With High School Graduates in Trying Times
Member Story #30: Technology, Both Simple and Robotic, Helps Residents Stay Connected
Member Story #29: Creative Teenagers Use Art to Connect With Residents Sheltering in Place
Member Story #28: Provider Arranges Drive-In Visits for Residents and Families
Member Story #27: Pandemic Inspires Fundraising to Upgrade Communication for Residents
Member Story #26: Provider Organizes Drive-Through Visits for Residents, Families
Member Story #25: Showing How Positive Media Stories Can Be Amplified by Letters to the Editor
Member Story #24: Member Partners With State Government to Expand its Telephone Crisis Line
Member Story #23: Adult Day Programs Find New Ways to Stay in Touch
Member Story #22: Adult Day Program, Shut Down by Coronavirus, Keeps Serving Elders and Caregivers
Member Story #21: Video Series Tells the Stories of Residents, Families, and Staff
Member Story #20: Upgraded Resident/Family Portal Keeps Everyone Informed
Member Story #19: Expanded Telehealth Options Connect Residents and Clients With Health Professionals
Member Story #18: Provider Creates a New Position to Facilitate Resident Communication
Member Story #17: Positive Media Coverage of Providers’ Workforce Struggles
Member Story #16: Positive Media Coverage for Tales of Resident Communication
Member Story #15: Media Attention Brings Donations to Affordable Housing Residents
Member Story #14: Family Webinars Plus a “Facetime Team”
Member Story #13: Phone-Based Activity System Boosted During Crisis
Member Story #12: Telephone Reassurance Program
Member Story #11: In-House Television Studio
Member Story #10: Residents Stay Connected With Families and the Community
Member Story #9: Keeping Lines of Communication Open
Member Story #8: Matching Residents With Staff “Buddies”
Member Story #7: Residents Stay in Touch
Member Story #6: Encouraging the Wider Community to Engage Residents
Member Story #5: Streaming and Videos
Member Story #4: Remote-Working Staff Stays Focused on Residents
Member Story #3: Independent Living Residents Innovate to Stay Connected
Member Story #2: Helping Residents Reach Out to Family
Member Story #1: Communication and Discussing a Positive Coronavirus Case


Member Story #31: Residents Share Wisdom With High School Graduates in Trying Times

At Bradford Ecumenical Home, Bradford, PA, residents’ wisdom has been shared with local high school seniors who suddenly find themselves graduating into a new world—in the era of social distancing due to a relentless pandemic.

Jolene Schuessler, staff development coordinator at Bradford Ecumenical Home, says the “Seniors to Seniors” program was initially inspired by the “Sharing Wisdom” theme of this year’s National Nursing Home Week.

“The idea was to talk with our residents and [gather their] wisdom and encouraging words for high school seniors,” says Schuessler. “Then COVID hit, and we weren’t allowing visitors, and then [staff] volunteered to visit with residents one-on-one. I started explaining to them that the high school seniors can’t go to school anymore, so what words of advice could you give them? How did you cope with troubles in your life?”

Almost 50 residents joined in, sharing their nuggets of advice. Schuessler created individual “postcards” for the participating residents, each with the resident’s words and a photo. The cards were posted on the community’s Wall of Fame.

“The messages were directed to high school seniors, and to staff who had children who are high school or college seniors,” says Schuessler.

In addition, the residents’ advice was collected into a pamphlet that was shared with the local school board; the pamphlets and special Class of 2020 pins were given to students along with their diplomas as they walked at graduation. (The local high school had an outdoor graduation ceremony with some clever innovations to allow social distancing.)

Here are a few samples of the residents’ wisdom:

For more resident comments, see the Bradford Ecumenical Home’s Facebook page. In addition, 2 articles on the program (one in May, one in June) appeared in the local newspaper, The Bradford Era.

Member Story #30: Technology, Both Simple and Robotic, Helps Residents Stay Connected

Ecumen, Shoreview, MN, has adopted several ways of increasing resident engagement and fighting isolation, both for the duration of the COVID-19 crisis and for the long haul.

To facilitate in-person visits to residents, a group of 3-sided plexiglass booths, “Connection Stations,” were built by Frana Companies—a contractor and Ecumen partner. The booths are set up outdoors, with the resident inside and visitors sitting on the other side of the glass. While masks are required for all visits, what makes this new visitor option special is the ability to be “mask-free” for the duration of the visit. All must wear masks, and microphones are available on both sides to allow easy conversation. The booths, which have been installed at 20 Ecumen sites, were funded by individual and foundation donors, and Frana built them at no cost.

A new technology to promote communication and resident engagement is being piloted. Partially funded by a Live Well at Home Grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Ecumen has installed 35 Elli-Q AI robots (out of an eventual 80-plus), at 3 Ecumen communities. The robots, by Intuition Robotics, are designed to promote social connectedness for older adults.

“Elli-Q is a voice-activated device that allows people to engage, and she engages them before they prompt her,” says Heidi Freisinger, Ecumen’s vice-president of philanthropy. “She might greet people when they wake up. She might ask, ‘Have you had water lately? Have you gotten up?’ It gets to know the individual, maybe the jokes they like.”

Elli-Q includes functions familiar to users of an Amazon Echo, but also includes a display screen, and recognizes voice, touch, and facial expressions. Freisinger says all functions are HIPAA-compliant. It can help with appointments, schedules, and more.

The original pilot placed the devices with 21 residents for a 100-day test. Freisinger says it included 804 proactive conversations, 511 jokes, and 497 hours of music. The project, which is still in beta-testing mode, has now expanded to allow installation of about 60 more devices, thanks to an “insiders program” sponsored by Intuition Robotics. A cross-over study is reviewing the value of the devices to elders combating social isolation and depression living in urban and rural areas.

Ecumen is also using iPads and Zoom video conferencing at all of its communities to facilitate virtual visits between residents, friends and relatives. An online scheduling system allows staff to deliver iPads to residents at the appointed time and help facilitate the video chats. More than 3,000 family visits—one from as far away as China—have been held to date.

The program also has expanded to include a Virtual Volunteers component allowing volunteers to be matched with residents, and is rolling out a new spiritual care component that is connecting residents with chaplains. An advanced scheduling function makes appointments easy.

Member Story #29: Creative Teenagers Use Art to Connect With Residents Sheltering in Place

In Illinois, a group of high school students is helping to reduce social isolation among older adults and the visually impaired in long-term care communities, all of whom are sheltering in place.

A new nonprofit, Lifting Hearts With the Arts, was founded in March by Maya Joshi, age 15, a student at Walter Payton College Prep in Chicago.

With the help of her twin sister, Riya, and 2 friends, Joshi quickly recruited about 25 students and more than 80 older adults to participate. Students are paired with residents, based on mutual interests, and connect with them virtually through the arts.

“When the stay-at-home order came into place we couldn’t celebrate with our grandparents,” says Joshi. “I felt for them, and I realized they loved getting video calls and regular phone calls every day. The first person I recruited was my twin sister, then 2 close friends of mine. That’s the core board, and then we started reaching out to other friends.”

The students have built relationships with 14 area retirement communities, including 4 LeadingAge members:

The students reach out to activities directors and give them a flyer and sign-up form to gather residents’ basic interests. Volunteer students are then paired with the elders.

Most students work with about 4 elders, Joshi says, but there are also group activities. Using Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and other platforms, the students give mini-concerts, play trivia games, paint or draw, knit, or just converse with residents.

Betty Schubert, a resident at Victorian Village, misses her pre-coronavirus lifestyle, when she played cards with her friends 5 days a week, but she enjoys her weekly Zoom meetings with Maya Joshi.

“Through the activities center, they came to ask me, and I said yes,” Schubert says. “I like young people and she’s interesting.”

“We just have conversations—learning about how different our lives were. I have twin great-grandchildren that are 12 years old, so we have something in common.”

What is next for Lifting Hearts With the Arts?

“One thing we want to do is meet all the people we’re talking to in person,” says Joshi.

See this local TV news segment on the organization for more.

Update, Aug. 12, 2020:

Riya Joshi, Maya’s twin sister, has founded her own organization, Wordy What, LLC, and is helping bring educational puzzles to assisted living and independent living communities, along with children’s hospitals and support homes.

Her first booklet, Wordy What: Chicago Edition, includes crosswords, word scrambles, and word searches. It can be purchased at the website, and Joshi says that every booklet she sells enables her to donate 3 more. Joshi has also secured help from David L. Hoyt, the world’s most-syndicated daily word game creator, who has recruited her to co-author puzzles with him for the Word Search World Traveler app.

Member Story #28: Provider Arranges Drive-In Visits for Residents and Families

The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, with the blessing of the New York State Department of Health, just launched family drive-in visits.

Using a glassed-in vestibule, an adjacent driveway, and a pair of (sanitized) wireless speakers, the organization has made it possible for residents and loved ones to get just a little closer—enough for in-person visits that are better than the all-video visits they have been having since the pandemic began.

“It’s been challenging to experience the separation between families and loved ones,” says COO David V. Pomeranz of RiverSpring Health. “We came up with a concept to drop a speaker in a car, have it pull up close to the vestibule, and put a companion speaker in the vestibule. It puts them 6-8 feet apart.”

The plan kicked off on June 11, and Pomeranz estimates that were 100-120 visits in the first 6 days. Visits are limited to 10 minutes, between 9:30 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., and visitors must stay in their cars. All passengers must have their temperatures checked, and must answer 4 Dept. of Health questions. Only COVID-19-negative residents can participate.

No objects can be passed back and forth, but families have been creative in their use of signs, he says. “They can come as often as there are slots available, and it gives them feeling of being one step closer. It feels like major progress, like a huge wall of separation has been reduced.”

One of the visits featured a milestone, as a resident was able to meet her 5-month-old great-grandchild for the first time.

The Hebrew Home had to get Department of Health approval to try the visits. “These days, with the concern [about] people in nursing homes, it’s anxiety-producing to even have the conversation,” Pomeranz says. “They were very understanding. Without the Department of Health we couldn’t have done it.”

Member Story #27: Pandemic Inspires Fundraising to Upgrade Communication for Residents

Faith Garrison, a resident at Springfield Masonic Community, Springfield, OH, was looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday (April 7), complete with family on hand. Forced to cancel the in-person party by the pandemic, Garrison celebrated virtually. Her grandchildren sang, and she blew out her candles all while her loved ones watched. She even went viral on the Springfield Masonic Community’s Facebook page with a sign asking for 100,000 shares, likes, and comments.

When the coronavirus required sheltering in place, Springfield Masonic Community, part of The Ohio Masonic Home (OMH) system, started passing out tablets preloaded with virtual communication platforms like Skype and FaceTime, campus-update information, COVID-19 reference materials, and telehealth programs to community members. The campaign to prevent isolation and loneliness is called #OMHTogether: Powering the Connection.

The #OMHTogether – Powering the Connection campaign has connected loved ones again so that they can wish each other good night and blow each other a kiss. Grandparents have been able to see their grandchildren and spend Easter Sunday with them virtually. Family members have even been able to say their final goodbyes through technology.

The campaign was launched by the Ohio Masonic Home Foundation, which is raising money to purchase tablets and other technologies to facilitate easy communication for residents and family.

According to Steve Petitjean, executive director of the foundation, 240 tablets have been purchased and 170 have been distributed; more will be purchased when needed. The goal of the campaign is $150,000, which will go into a technology fund that will be used for various types of community member connectivity. This will include tablets, hardware from iN2L, and virtual reality equipment from Embodied Labs.

See this video for the story of Marilyn and Bob Wentz, residents at the Western Reserve Masonic Community, and another video for the story of the Hills, residents at the and his wife at the Browning Masonic Community.

Member Story #26: Provider Organizes Drive-Through Visits for Residents, Families

Elm Terrace Gardens, Lansdale, PA, recently organized a day of drive-through visitations as a way for residents to get just a little closer to their families without breaking social distancing rules.

Elm Terrace Gardens´ maintenance staff built booths of wood and plexiglass for residents to sit behind. Family members were invited to drive up to the booths for 10-minute visits. Visitors are required to stay in their cars, and the booths are sanitized between uses. Staff and local volunteers helped manage the process, with visitors gathering at a nearby church parking lot.

The event drew local media coverage on 2 Philadelphia-area TV stations. See a slide show of the event here. A second day of visitations is in the planning stages.

Member Story #25: Showing How Positive Media Stories Can Be Amplified by Letters to the Editor

LeadingAge New Jersey & Delaware (LANJDE) is encouraging its members to help spread the word about the great work that long-term care providers do. It is calling attention to a member, Reformed Church Home (RCH), Old Bridge, NJ, that has had positive media coverage focused on 2 residents, aged 92 and 99, who have recovered from COVID-19.

See one article in The Suburban and another in The Home News Tribune.

LANJDE is encouraging members to pitch similar positive stories to local news organizations, and is also encouraging members to send letters to the editor in response to the 2 stories above.

LANJDE Vice President Meagan Glaser writes, “To help us amplify this important message and make the biggest impact, please consider responding to these articles with your own short (200 – 250 word) letter to the editor, perhaps sharing a positive story from your own community and/or commenting how amazing the story from RCH is.”

She recommends sticking to 1-2 main points, and referencing the article the letter is responding to.

Member Story #24: Member Partners With State Government to Expand its Telephone Crisis Line

Institute on Aging, San Francisco, CA, recently made important changes to The Friendship Line, its accredited crisis line for people aged 60 years and older, and adults living with disabilities. (See our earlier story here, which outlined how the organization has had to reorganized the line’s staffing to accommodate the new situation.)

On April 24, Institute on Aging announced a new partnership with the California Department of Aging (CDA), to expand resources and establish the new Friendship Line California, as a way to better support lonely and isolated seniors throughout the state.

Under the new agreement, the Institute on Aging has received funding to expand the Friendship Line services. The new Friendship Line California (888-670-1360) and the existing Friendship Line (800-971-0016) will take inbound calls, and will offer prescheduled outbound call service, with both lines operating 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. First-time callers will be encouraged to dial the Friendship Line California first.

Friendship Line California will be staffed by more than 20 people, many of whom previously worked for the Alzheimer’s Association and have relevant experience and skills. All were trained by the Institute on Aging for their new role.

“We want to give the state of California credit for recognizing the deep impact of the pandemic on isolated, older adults, as well as the extraordinary risks and challenges that these circumstances present to this particular subset,” says Dustin Harper, chief strategy officer for Institute on Aging.

Member Story #23: Adult Day Programs Find New Ways to Stay in Touch

Hebrew SeniorLife, Boston, MA, has reconfigured its adult day health programs during the coronavirus crisis. With in-person interaction no longer available, the focus has shifted to remote—and frequent—interaction.

The 2 programs—Great Days for Seniors at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center in Roslindale, and a program it runs in partnership with 2Life Communities, in Brighton—usually serve about 70 elders in total.

When the programs closed on March 16, the organization began calling all participants and families every day.

“Family feedback was valuable,” says Suzie Kaytis, director, Great Days for Seniors programs at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. “They all talked about routine and structure, [and that] it was really hard to replace that at home.”

“We have been conscientious about keeping in touch with clients,” says Kaytis. “They really seem to need the phone contact. We use FaceTime or get on video groups as often as possible, and also talk to caregivers.”

Hebrew SeniorLife began using Zoom as a platform for activity and caregiver groups at the Roslindale site. A daily activity group is held 4 days a week at 10:30 a.m., and one day at 2:30 p.m. A caregiver group is offered every week.

The Brighton program, which operates in a housing complex run by 2Life Communities, serves Russian and Chinese older adults.

Activity group participants do exercises, brain teasers, and converse, says Kaytis. Elaine Aronsky, R.N., adult day health site manager for the Russian and Chinese program, is calling all the participants to do COVID-19 screenings and health assessments. Kaytis is working with family caregivers, who are now caring for their loved ones 24/7 without a break.

“The other thing we’ve done is share resources,” says Kaytis. “I’ve tried to find other virtual activities for participants. There are some memory cafes doing virtual cafes, and we’re looking at museums and other sites people can [visit] at home. There are some organizations that have comprehensive websites about caregiver support.”

For the program serving Chinese and Russian elders, the needs are different. Clients live in older adult housing, and have a patchwork of services including those from the housing provider, home health, and the day program. Seven days a week, Russian-speaking and Chinese-speaking clients are receiving calls from staff who speak their languages.

“Their safety nets are a little looser,” Kaytis says. “We’re trying to find out if any of them can participate in the Zoom groups, but a lot don’t have the technology or family to set it up for them.”

The current day programs are being operated by 4 staff. Kaytis says each of the programs normally operate with 6 staff, but many have been reassigned to help with direct care in Hebrew SeniorLife’s skilled nursing and assisted living communities.

Takeaways: “Don’t be afraid to try new things,” says Kaytis. “Plunge ahead. It’s extremely rewarding because it clearly makes a difference, and I only wish we could do more to help these families.”

Member Story #22: Adult Day Program, Shut Down by Coronavirus, Keeps Serving Elders and Caregivers

In normal times, Joy’s House, Indianapolis, IN, operates 2 non-medical adult day centers, and serves 35-40 “Guests” (their term, capitalized, for clients) per day.

These are not normal times. With the adult day centers closed down by the pandemic, Joy’s House is still finding ways to support family caregivers, via the launch of The Hau’oli Project. Hau’oli (pronounced “how’ooh-lee”) means “joy” in Hawaiian.

The project was inspired by Miss Harriet, a Joy’s House client. Born in Molokai, HI, 87 years ago, she “embodies a sense of calm and taking things in stride. Her laugh is one of pure joy and is contagious for anyone who has the privilege to hear it. Her deep and unwavering faith is a part of who she is at the core. Her advice on life, raising children and how to treat other people is inspiring.” There is a photo of Miss Harriet playing her ukulele on the Joy’s House Facebook page.

Joy’s House Marketing Coordinator Sarah Shadday describes the program as “a movement to spread comfort and joy during this unprecedented, difficult time. It’s also an opportunity to bring people together, to support those who need it, in a fun and impactful way.”

Joy’s House is recruiting “volunteer advocates” who will be screened, trained, and educated to develop social partnerships with family caregivers. The organization will match volunteers with those who are caring for vulnerable elders.

The organization’s popular Caregiver Crossing, which for years was a local radio show featuring Joy’s House staff, has been converted into a video/podcast series, hosted by Tina McIntosh, Joy’s House founder and CEO, and Shadday.

The job description for Caregiver Advocates reads, “We are looking for advocates to be connected with caregivers in our community and provide joy, comfort, and support, in whatever way that may look for that person. It could be delivering meals, sending a small gift, becoming pen pals, playing a game on FaceTime, attending a virtual church service together, doing yoga together on Zoom – the sky is the limit! All advocates will be thoroughly screened, including a background check, to ensure the utmost safety for our caregivers.”

Joy’s House was recognized as a LeadingAge Catalyst in February 2019. That article included a podcast with McIntosh.

Member Story #21: Video Series Tells the Stories of Residents, Families, and Staff

Sayre Christian Village, Lexington, KY, has posted a number of excellent videos on its YouTube channel, chronicling the experiences of residents and staff during the pandemic.

Elise Hinchman, vice president, marketing & development, who says Sayre tells almost all its stories in video form, sent links to a few of her favorites, along with comments:

Visit the Sayre Christian Village YouTube channel for more.

Member Story #20: Upgraded Resident/Family Portal Keeps Everyone Informed

Mary’s Woods, a full-continuum provider in Lake Oswego, OR, has put together a well-organized way for residents, staff, families, and other stakeholders to keep up with the way the organization is managing through the coronavirus crisis.

There is a family portal, linked on this page (scroll down to “Learn More About Our Covid-19 Response”). It predates the coronavirus crisis, but has been updated to accommodate information related to the crisis for residents, families, and staff. The portal includes 26 apps relating to many different topics of use to users.

The Coronavirus Preparedness app leads to a useful compendium of links to topics like infection control, news updates, a video series featuring President & CEO Diane Hood, downloadable PDFs and videos related to coronavirus, and an FAQ that covers vital questions for residents and families.

“This will change the way we communicate beyond this,” says Hood. “It’s forced us and residents and staff to take advantage of the portal, which can be loaded on a phone. It has been a wild period of 7-day weeks here.”

Cheri Mussotto-Conyers, vice president of marketing and communications, led a team that put together the information. “We wanted to be sure we thought about every stakeholder, and what they needed to hear, and [wanted to] make it consistent,” she says. “All of our outside stakeholders, families, and prospects, need to hear what we are doing and how we were caring for residents and staff, and need specific information and engagement. The resident portal is one of our best tools for constant access.”

Mary’s Woods created 2 staff teams, a communication team and a community-wide COVID-19 group as well. Colette Rees, director of philanthropy, has a background in television, so she has been orchestrating and producing video chats.

“We’re trying to use everybody’s best skills, and we’re finding hidden talents,” says Mussotto-Conyers. “We’re also doing additional videos throughout the campus as well.” The recording equipment is left in place, so chaplains or activities staff can make films as well.

“It’s been a challenge [to] update policy on the portal and on paper,” says Nancy Koerner, vice president of health services. “Because we have 24/7 services, we want to be sure everyone is getting the same info. More than the caregiving protocols, we’re dealing with significant fear from staff. They have families and a life they go home to, and there is uncertainty that is propelled by the media that magnifies uncertainty. We’re dealing with solid interventions for infection prevention, and adding emotional support to comforting people with their fear.”

People are influenced by many different sources, and some contradict each other, Koerner adds. “We’ve established a much better level of trust from staff and residents.”

“We’re learning a lot through this,” says Hood, “and it’s forced us to really jump into [these] tech applications and tools.”

Member Story #19: Expanded Telehealth Options Connect Residents and Clients With Health Professionals

Loretto, Syracuse, NY, has expanded its telehealth program to all residents and participants, to help cope with the pandemic. The move was enabled by a partnership with MonitorMe™, a health monitoring program that connects patients with doctors and medical staff.

“We’ve been using telehealth for quite a few years,” says President and CEO Kim Townsend, “on our restorative care unit and in the PACE program. It can provide 24/7 medical care, and tracking of disease [processes], to make sure people are stable and remain so.”

The MonitorMe™ kit comes with an iPad, a cellular device, a blood pressure monitor, and a pulse oximeter. For patients who require it, a 2-lead remote monitoring EKG patch, to be placed on the chest, is also supplied.

The system connects residents to physicians and nurse practitioners, and they can coordinate with Loretto’s to ensure continuity of care. Both Medicare and Medicaid cover the services.

Many of the units were deployed as a pilot, 4-5 months ago, in PACE CNY, Loretto’s program of all-inclusive care for the elderly. During social distancing, the system also minimizes unnecessary contact and use of PPE.

PACE CNY’s clinic remains open for essential visits, though its typical socialization activities and non-essential therapies have been cancelled during the pandemic.

“That’s why this product has been helpful to us to stay linked to those people,” says Joelle Margrey, vice president of skilled nursing at Loretto. “We are doing Facetime visits, and all of the coaching that they do in [the] PACE.”

Member Story #18: Provider Creates a New Position to Facilitate Resident Communication

Marion, OH-based United Church Homes, like many providers, is helping residents connect electronically with family and friends. Instead of adding communication duties to existing staff, however, the organization has created a new position, “virtual visitor guide,” to facilitate the communication.

“As soon as we heard about limited visitation, we were concerned,” says Terry Spitznagel, senior vice president and chief growth officer. “Those visits to families are high priorities. Secondly, a lot of phone calls were starting to come into the units. That wasn’t working either, because of the volume of calls.”

United Church Homes quickly created the new job description and asked each site to hire its own virtual visitor guide—which they did, within 5 days. Many of the guides, says Spitznagel, are college students or displaced restaurant workers. Their knowledge of technology and social media is a perfect fit for the challenges they face.

“We also look for people who have energy and interest in working with seniors,” Spitznagel adds.

The organization’s IT team scrounged to find iPads wherever they could, and prep them for use. “Within 7 days we had these virtual visitor guides in all our communities, working with life enrichment to get to know all the families,” she adds.

Member Story #17: Positive Media Coverage of Providers’ Workforce Struggles

Two LeadingAge members in Pennsylvania are profiled in an April 6 article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The article focuses on the difficulty that skilled nursing and assisted living providers are having in recruiting workers—even in the best of times—but especially during the coronavirus crisis.

The 2 LeadingAge members included are Concordia Lutheran Ministries in Cabot, PA, and Presbyterian SeniorCare Network, based in Oakmont, PA.

Concordia is actively recruiting more aides, and is offering an “appreciation bonus” of $25 per day for every day staff members work. The bonus is available to those earning less than $75,000 per year.

Some of Concordia’s part-time employees have gone full-time to earn more, and some employees, whose spouses are now at home to care for their children, can actually increase their work hours as a result.

Presbyterian SeniorCare Network is also recruiting, and is actively encouraging the idea that these are rewarding jobs for people seeking meaning and purpose in life.

Lisa Fischetti, senior director of communications, is quoted as saying, “Now during COVID-19, it becomes more important for us to heighten that awareness because, yes, we are going to have front-line people who are tired and stressed and need a break, and we will have a need for people to fill in for them.”

The article spells out the workforce challenges that providers and their employees face, during normal times and especially now, and presents a positive picture of providers.

For much more detail read the article, “For elder care facilities, in-home services, recruiting help is more challenging than ever.”

Member Story #16: Positive Media Coverage for Tales of Resident Communication

Two LeadingAge-member organizations in Connecticut have earned media coverage for the way they are helping residents connect with family members, despite visitor restrictions.

An article in the Hartford Courant includes the touching story of a resident at Cherry Brook Health Care Center in Canton, CT, Wally Dixon, and his wife. Unable to visit him as usual, Dot Dixon made signs saying, “I love you” and arranged to have them taped on the outside of a window in a common area. The couple were able to “touch hands” through the window. (See the article for more details and a photo.)

Rebecca Stevenson, director of admissions and marketing at Cherry Brook, says other residents are visiting with family in the same way. She tells the story of another resident, who had gone in for 2 weeks of respite care just before the coronavirus lockdown orders occurred. His girlfriend was able to visit, touch hands through the glass and talk by phone.

Cherry Brook recreation staff is helping residents connect with family and friends via Zoom and Facetime on iPads.

With communal dining closed down, residents are eating meals in their rooms. Staff are doing “hot chocolate hours” on certain days of the week, as well as a cocktail hour. Residents can be taken outside, one at a time, and wear masks.

Jerome Home in New Britain, CT, was also profiled in the article for the way it’s helping residents reach out to their families via teleconferencing on iPads that were recently purchased.

Administrator Lori Toombs says recreation and social services department employees reach out to families and facilitate the calls.

“Jenna Sweet, our director of life enrichment, and Christine Gagliardi, our director of social services, and their staff connect almost daily with a lot of family members, and we’ve connected the majority of our residents, so far,” Toombs says.

Sweet arranged for white boards to be offered to residents wanting to send messages via photos on Facebook. One resident’s grandson is sending messages back in the same way.

“It’s important to keep residents connected to their loved ones,” Toombs adds. “It’s a very emotional time.” She adds that families are doing window visits as well.

The day we talked with Toombs, the New Britain police had visited the community to cheer up residents. “We had a number of them come; they ran their sirens and lights, and walked around the building waving to everyone.”

Member Story #15: Media Attention Brings Donations to Affordable Housing Residents

At Kavod Senior Life, Denver, CO, low-income affordable housing residents are getting donations of food and other supplies as a result of a report on a local CBS-affiliate TV station.

According to Christie Ziegler, Kavod’s director of communications and marketing, a post on by board chair Rob Friedman was noticed by a reporter from KCNC-TV, which led to the story. Ziegler says the reporter was looking for a story of how people could help.

View the segment here. It includes interviews with a resident and with President and CEO Michael Klein.

Ziegler says, “[We’ve had] many financial and physical donations since the piece aired, of all shapes and sizes.”

Member Story #14: Family Webinars Plus a “Facetime Team”

RiverSpring Health, based in Riverdale, NY, holds Family Information Webinars every Thursday at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., as a forum for families to get up-to-date information and to ask questions about how the organization is handling the coronavirus crisis.

The team of panelists includes the medical director, the vice-president of nursing, the COO, the director of social services, and the assistant director of therapeutic activities and enrichment programs. Participants join via GoToMeeting.

The Webinars began on March 5, and attendance grew from 30 to 60 in the first 2 weeks. Attendance for the March 26 webinar was expected to reach 100, says COO David Pomeranz.

“We promote it all week to family members,” says Pomeranz. “It’s a committed time to address questions. Questions come through GoToMeeting, or [families] can text them to me, email them, or call in.”

The webinars were expected to be about 30 minutes long, but Pomeranz says they continue until all the questions are answered.

RiverSpring Health has also found a way to reassign employees to make resident-family communications easier.

With social distancing in place, and the suspension of group functions, RiverSpring’s team of 8 full-time transporters was idled.

“We made them our Facetime team,” says Melissa Estevez, director of customer service. “Families can go to the website, request a chat, and we schedule video chats using Facetime or Google Duo, with the transporters making the connections.”

Estevez says her team is averaging 50 calls a day, though larger quantities are common.

Each transporter is given an iPad on a rolling stand. The workers take all of the usual masking and hand-washing precautions. The transporters work with the long-term care residents, subacute rehab patients, and an assisted living group. Independent living residents have a similar program provided by another team.

Estevez says RiverSpring would like to continue the program after the coronavirus crisis is over.

Member Story #13: Phone-Based Activity System Boosted During Crisis

Well Connected and Well Connected Español are phone-based activity programs for older adults, operated by Covia, a full-continuum provider based in Walnut Creek, CA.

Amber Carroll, director of Well Connected, says the crisis has meant some changes for the service, which is now adding ad hoc programming for users who are sheltering in place.

The system offers lifelong learning opportunities, conversations, chats, games, and support groups for older adults all over the U.S.

Users numbered more than 2,000 as of March 20 (up from the usual 1,700). Covia is linking to the sites of many museums that are closed. The Art Institute of Chicago is adding weekly virtual tours, as is the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

The Advocacy Now discussion group has grown and is now focusing on the coronavirus. An emergency preparedness group has also shifted its content to the health emergency.

Covia also runs Social Call, a program that pairs trained volunteers 1-on-1 with older adult clients. Dr. Carla Perissinotto of the University of California-San Francisco, a long-time resource for the program on the social determinants of health, has asked Covia to include questions specifically related to COVID-19 to that program.

Mary McMullin, chief strategy and advancement officer, says the call programs are also getting a lot of volunteer interest during the pandemic.

Member Story #12: Telephone Reassurance Program  

Eskaton, based in Carmichael, CA, has operated its Telephone Reassurance Program for more than 2 decades, but the coronavirus crisis has created a need to boost it substantially.

The program, which typically served about 500 people, uses trained volunteers to provide check-in calls to older adults who live alone or are isolated and would benefit from regular connections to the program volunteers. It typically got referrals through a variety of places, often through EMS, police, adult protective services, neighbors, concerned family, senior centers, and other places.

The program is being expanded rigorously now because demand is so great. Chief Strategy Officer Sheri Peifer says Eskaton is now working with local groceries and pharmacies to set up a delivery service as part of the program. She estimates the program will likely include at least 1,000 more older adults now, and a new, more sophisticated background tracking system will soon be put into place.

Eskaton has arranged with gerontology and nursing students—now out of class due to social distancing—from Sacramento State University to help do outreach.

Application forms for elders receiving the calls, and for volunteers, are available. Matching of beneficiaries and volunteers is done manually, but Peifer says a more automated service will eventually streamline that.

Member Story #11: In-House Television Studio

Fellowship Senior Living, Basking Ridge, NJ, has created an in-house TV studio which is live-streaming content on all residents’ televisions.

Programming has begun, and includes live entertainment, Church services, a “Daily Chronicle” of the day’s happenings, rehab and wellness classes, art therapy, music therapy, “laughter yoga,” and an evening program, “Tonight Show”-style. Additional programming, including lectures, is in the works.

A construction project on the campus has made it possible to set aside space for 3 “studios” along 3 walls of a large open space. The sets include a presentation set for classes and entertainment, a living-room style set with s piano, and a board room setting that is being finalized. Staff has made it possible for calls to come in so that Q&As can be provided.

Viewership of the channel is high, and the leadership team has also begun calling every resident to keep all feeling engaged and safe.

Member Story #10: Residents Stay Connected With Families and the Community

Presbyterian Homes & Services, Roseville, MN, has set up a number of ways to communicate with residents, both for family members and well-wishers.

Via its “Five Ways to Make a Mark” link, plus its Facebook account, PHS is highlighting how it is using social media and other forms of communication to help residents and families who cannot visit them because of the Coronavirus visitor restrictions.

Residents are posting photos of themselves holding signs for loved ones; video chatting with family, with the help of staff; receiving notes of encouragement from children; and operating a pen pal program that can also include phone calls.

People interested in being pen pals can visit a PHS link to volunteer for the “Stay Connected” program. Residents can express interest on their end, and a connection can be made. All “letters” are actually email. Some residents are even interested in phone calls, to talk, pray, etc.

One PHS community has set up a bench outside of a large common-area window, along with appropriate signage, as a place where family can see and visit their loved ones.

Takeaway: “You can’t share too much love,” says Darcy DeMars, director of digital marketing and communication. “This isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, we’re going to make it a marathon of love.”

Member Story #9: Keeping Lines of Communication Open

At Gurwin Jewish Family of Healthcare Services, Commack, NY, staff is using iPads to help residents do virtual visits with family. A “GranGram” program accepts video messages from family members and shows them to residents.

“Community Cares” cards (paper or electronic) are being received from outside community members who have volunteered to send messages to residents and staff. Gurwin also supplied cards to residents that they can send to their families. Social media and a constant contact database and eblasts are also used to give information to residents. Music, old movies, religious services, and other programming is broadcast on the in-house TV channel.

Takeaway: “We are trying our best to be innovative to keep those lines of communication open for the residents,” says Joanne Parisi, vice president and administer at Gurwin. “Normally we have a lot of family [members] that spend the entire day here, 7 days per week.”

Member Story #8: Matching Residents With Staff “Buddies”

St. Ann’s Community, based in Rochester, NY, is ramping up its “buddy program,” which assigns all staff members who are not frontline caregivers as “buddies” to residents. Each staff participant typically works with 1-6 residents, facilitating communication with family members; making sure laundry or other small tasks is done; arranging videoconferences; and just visiting and spending time with residents. There are “buddy captains” on every floor to help ensure all residents are well-served.

Member Story #7: Residents Stay in Touch

At Piedmont Crossing, Thomasville, NC, a resident turned 100 this week. Team members gathered to help her celebrate, and during the small gathering, staff used FaceTime to reach out to several of her daughters so they could be part of the moment. Residents are using FaceTime and Skype for family communication. Chaplains are streaming worship services. The IN2L (It’s Never 2 Late) system is also helpful.

Correspondence is being sent to families on a regular basis. United Church Homes and Services President and CEO Lee Syria sent a letter (link) to families outlining the situation and steps that have been taken to protect residents.

Member Story #6: Encouraging the Wider Community to Engage Residents

Presbyterian SeniorCare Network, based in Oakmont, PA, has created #RaysOfSunshine, an effort to encourage people to communicate with its residents during the coronavirus crisis.

Members of the community are invited to send “a note or a card, long or short, big or small, homemade or store-bought,” that can be shared with the organization’s residents, patients and employees.

“People are reaching out to us asking if they can send cards and notes,” says Paul Winkler, president and CEO. “In response, we checked with our chief medical director and received clearance that greetings can be received.”

#RaysOfSunshine is both a digital and U.S. mail effort. The organization is suggesting that parents keep their children busy, while out of school, by participating.

All precautions and guidelines will be followed when mailed greetings are shared with residents, patients, and team members. Notes and videos can also be received at the Presbyterian SeniorCare Network Facebook page.

Member Story #5: Streaming and Videos

CJE SeniorLife, Chicago, IL, is making plans to film and produce videos for online learning. Another team is making arrangements to stream classes and sermons. President and CEO Dan Fagin posted a detailed letter on the website (link) with specific explanations about policies at various sites, including skilled nursing, assisted living, independent living, and adult day services, which are closed.

Member Story #4: Remote-Working Staff Stays Focused on Residents

At Crown Center for Senior Living, an independent living community in suburban St. Louis, MO, all office staff began to work at home several days ago. Crown Center’s receptionist allowed the main phone line to be forwarded to her home, so she is able to keep all staff and residents connected as needed. Food orders, maintenance requests, and more routinely go through the receptionist, so she is kept busy. Her home phone line has been set up with an automatic outgoing voice mail message announcing it as Crown Center, so messages can be saved while she’s on the line. Via voice mail, texts, and a Google doc shared by all the Crown Center staff, she is able to keep everyone connected.

Community Relations Director Randi Schenberg calls the receptionist “our Grand Central Station.”

Because all staff are now using their own phones to call residents, and because residents are advised not to answer calls from numbers they don’t recognize, the receptionist will tell residents which staff member they will be hearing from, along with the phone number.

Takeaway: “it was very important that residents still know that the staff, even though most of us are now off-site, is available for them,” says Randi Schenberg, community relations director.

Member Story #3: Independent Living Residents Innovate to Stay Connected

At Bridge Meadows, Portland, OR, an intergenerational housing community with 3 generations of residents, the kids in residence are making cards for elders, and their parents are communicating via social media. Elders and parents alike are putting spiritual messages on Facebook.

All 12 of the organization’s employees are now working at home. Direct care staff and therapists are connecting by phone daily, and now have Zoom accounts.

Executive Director Derenda Schubert says deciding to work offsite was the hardest part: “[Residents] understand why we’re not there. It took us a while to decide to do it. So we had a lot of conversations about it, until we realized we were potentially harming the community by being present.”

Happiness Hour—a weekly communal meal the residents have together—is now off the table, but “Virtual Happiness Hour is on the horizon,” says Schubert.

Residents cannot gather in the communal spaces anymore, but they are coping. Inspired by an Italian response to home isolation, one resident is playing music in a central area where everyone can hear him play. Kids are making cards for elders and parents are communicating via social media. Elders and parents alike are putting spiritual messages on Facebook.

Takeaway: Schubert says it was very hard for staff to decide to work at home: “But it was the residents who told us, ‘We are worried about you and your families. We got this!’”

Member Story #2: Helping Residents Reach Out to Family

At Dallas, TX-based Buckner, “We believe in overcommunicating,” according to Vice President Brian Robbins. The organization is using email blasts, internal mailbox apps already in place, and is acting on requests quickly. Buckner is using smart phones and tablets to help residents who don’t have their own, and want to reach out to family.

Member Story #1: Communication to Community and Discussing a Positive Coronavirus Case

National Church Residences has a letter to families, from President and CEO Mark Ricketts, on its website, outlining its policies (link). It reiterates the cautions the organization is taking, includes a statement about additional compensation for frontline staff, and advises family about how to contact the organization.

The site also has a letter from Medical Director Dr. John Weigand, re the one resident who tested positive for the coronavirus, and how that situation is being handled (link). Both letters refer to CDC and health department resources.

Visit our COVID-19 resources section for more resources.

LeadingAge wants to hear from you! Tell us stories of how your organization is adapting and innovating to manage with the coronavirus crisis. We are looking for stories about: staff management, worker welfare, and recruitment; childcare; care and services for residents and clients; personal protective equipment (PPE); communication; food services; advocacy; resident engagement; and more.

Contact Gene Mitchell at or 202-508-9424.