Making the Most of the Holidays Despite the Pandemic

Part of: Member Ideas and Inspirations: Coronavirus

LeadingAge members are keeping residents, clients, and staff safe while helping them socialize and celebrate with family and friends.

The Challenge: As they move into the 2020 holiday season, providers still face the dangers of COVID-19 and the many restrictions that come with it. Even so, LeadingAge members are finding ways to serve elders' needs for socialization and celebration with family and friends while keeping residents and staff safe.

For more information about what LeadingAge members are doing to celebrate the 2020 holidays and protect against COVID-19, and for guidance on holiday activities, see these LeadingAge articles:

Member Story #24: Life Plan Community Participates in Group Art Project Focused on Resilience and Hope
Member Story #23: Provider Creates a Gift Registry for Residents Sheltering in Place
Member Story #22: Bringing Touch Back to Visitations With a Safe “Hugging Wall”
Member Story #21: Residents Creating Fun Movie Poster Reproductions to Celebrate the Holidays
Member Story #20: An On-Campus Winter Wonderland Helps Spread Joy of the Season
Member Story #19: Residents and Staff Make Their Own PSA on Fighting COVID-19
Member Story #18: Affordable Housing Residents Prepare for Stay-at-Home Thanksgiving
Member Story #17: Helping PACE Participants Stay Safe but Connected for Thanksgiving
Member Story #16: Technology Helps Sheltering-in-Place Residents Celebrate with Family and Friends
Member Story #15: Residents Sheltered in Place in a “Partial Lockdown” State
Member Story #14: More Member Ideas for Celebrating Thanksgiving
Member Story #13: Extra Food Services to Keep Residents Out of High-Touch Places
Member Story #12: Finding Ways to Accommodate Family Visitors During Thanksgiving Week
Member Story #11: Creating Ideas for Thanksgiving/Holiday Season Fun
Member Story #10: “Turkeypalooza” Brings Meals to Community-Based Elders in a Time of Need
Member Story #9: Provider Spells Out Protocols for Holiday Celebrations
Member Story #8: Preparing for Holidays—and New Fall Cases
Member Story #7: Reiterating Straightforward Advice for Holiday Safety
Member Story #6: Meal Options to Keep Residents at Home on Holidays
Member Story #5: Overcoming Holiday Loneliness and Isolation
Member Story #4: Thanksgiving Celebrations Customized for all Levels of Care
Member Story #3: Preparing for Thanksgiving for a Multi-State System
Member Story #2: Multi-Site Provider Says the Little Details Really Matter
Member Story #1: Recreating the Usual Festive Feeling in a Time of Restriction


Member Story #24: Life Plan Community Participates in Group Art Project Focused on Resilience and Hope

Residents and staff at Mt. San Antonio Gardens, Pomona, CA, helped create an uplifting art project that brought a transformative sense of hope, community, and fun to a year better known for sickness and isolation.

Almost 500 residents and staff participated in “Project: Look Up,” created by artist Elizabeth Turk. She started by creating colorful artwork to be applied to umbrellas. Participants, each holding their own umbrellas, moved in (socially distanced) tandem through 6 different areas on the Mt. San Antonio Gardens campus, and were filmed from above by a drone. The result has been described as “a kaleidoscopic-rose window” that is mesmerizing to watch.

As Turk has written, “The layers of the project tell stories of resilience and ultimately, the belief that one can “LOOK UP” and see through today into a more optimistic tomorrow.”

More information on the project is featured on Turk’s website, and a trailer featuring the project is available for viewing. An excellent article on the project appeared in the New York Times in November.

“I’m a stone sculptor,” says Turk, “and I immediately went to the architecture of Zen gardens, and thought, how can I activate it? Can you create a platform where each [participant] can have an individual experience, but see themselves as part of a collective? It didn’t take long to think that the drone is not only in the position of seeing the collective, but it’s also safe because of the virus.”

Kitty Schulte, a Mt. San Antonio Gardens resident, chairs the community’s Gallery Exhibit Committee, which was the official resident sponsoring group that worked with the marketing staff to prepare for Project: Look Up.

Schulte says, “It seemed important to have a group of residents behind this. The intention was to be very inclusive of residents and staff, including those who had limited mobility to participate. The focused activity […] gave a sense of purpose and uplift. [Elizabeth’s] positive manner was much appreciated, and people were glad to take part in it. There’s just been so much this year—with the pandemic and the political situation—that the warmth and inclusiveness felt wonderful.”

Resident Bob Rogers, president of the Gardens Club Council—Mt. San Antonio Gardens’ official resident organization—echoes Schulte’s comments about building community. “When the project started, […] we were several months into a shutdown, with people pretty much cut off from the outside world; a lot of people here don’t drive so they couldn’t get away at all. This was something that everybody could be involved in, whether in independent living or the health center—just an excellent vehicle for bringing the entire community back together again.”

All of the filming was done in one day, with the group moving from location to location on the campus. Turk used music, which residents helped choose, to coordinate the movements of participants. All were masked and socially distanced; the size of the umbrellas helped keep people apart. Rogers notes that the couples seen dancing are married.

“This community has a strong sense of ‘can-do,’” says Schulte. “The sense of adventure was there, and the willingness of people to volunteer and do the nitty-gritty work to organize [it]. In this community, with a wide range of mental capacities, we could each participate. It was unmitigated joy to do this with staff, who did a lot to help.”

Project: Look Up was inspired by Turk’s Shoreline Project, which began in 2018 with an event in Laguna Beach, CA. The video and still photography from the Mt. San Antonio Gardens event will eventually be incorporated into a larger project working with other populations.

Turk is working on another event that will involve school children in a small botanical garden. “That group is facing the same depression and inability to gather and interact,” she says.

“What impressed me the most was that Elizabeth has a foundation to do just what she was doing, to present humanity in an artistic way that uplifts the planet,” says Rogers. “It amazes me that she came along. We needed her and she needed us.”

View the trailer for the remarkable kaleidoscopic video of the event.

Member Story #23: Provider Creates a Gift Registry for Residents Sheltering in Place

An Amazon registry of gifts has been created for the residents of 4 Presbyterian SeniorCare Network communities by the organization’s lifestyle engagement teams.

“We’re excited about going beyond the traditional celebrations and gift exchanges that we normally would do, which we have already reimagined to meet social distancing and other COVID-19 precautionary measures this year,” says Brittney Sarnese of the lifestyle engagement staff. “This Amazon gift registry idea is meant as an extra, added surprise for our residents, especially when they find out that their personally selected gift is from a thoughtful donor.”

Presbyterian SeniorCare encouraged the public to place registry orders on prior to Dec. 16. A group of campus “elves” will wrap the gifts and include personalized notes of cheer for delivery to each resident on Christmas Day. Each of the 4 communities has its own Amazon registry link.

Member Story #22: Bringing Touch Back to Visitations With a Safe “Hugging Wall”

A “hugging wall” made out of shower curtains has brought back touch for residents of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay and their families.

The first hugging wall was installed in early November; a second one went up at Thanksgiving. Residents and their families reserve times to meet and touch through the clear plastic curtains, and then Westminster-Canterbury staff thoroughly clean the curtains for 15 minutes between appointments.

The hugging walls are set up in the community’s visitation stations, located near an outside entrance. For more information, visit the organization’s news archive; it includes links to a great Washington Post column and an article by AARP describing the success of the measure.

Member Story #21: Residents Creating Fun Movie Poster Reproductions to Celebrate the Holidays

Residents at Maple Knoll Village, Cincinnati, OH, are having fun (in a safe and socially distanced way, of course) by recreating classic holiday movie posters and doing a 25 days of Christmas countdown.

These posters represent the first round of the program.

“The residents have been having a blast getting into the holiday spirit, and have challenged each other to see who can get the most likes on their picture,” says Megan Gresham-Ulrich, Maple Knoll’s VP of marketing and business development.

Gresham-Ulrich notes that the 2 residents in the “It’s a Wonderful Life” poster are married; the 3 residents posing in “Holiday Inn” were photoshopped into place.

Member Story #20: An On-Campus Winter Wonderland Helps Spread Joy of the Season

At Bradford Ecumenical Home, Bradford, PA, residents are enjoying a “Winter Wonderland” display that is also bringing local residents by the campus to enjoy the lights.

The layout on the home’s campus includes a life-size Santa display; other traditional Christmas displays, including reindeer, snowmen, elves, sleighs, and a nativity scene; and a mailbox to the North Pole, built by a carpentry class at Bradford Area High School, where children can drop off letters to Santa.

A flyer put out on social media, in a local newspaper, and around town describes the displays. The United Way of the Bradford Area helped fund the decorations.

Also on display are banners and signs about a year-long artist residency that has continued despite the pandemic. The artist, Julie Mader, has been able to continue the program of classes for residents via teleconference, with help from the Elk County Council on the Arts.

“While COVID may still be on the rise, so is our staff,” says Jolene Schuessler, the home’s staff development coordinator, “always rising above and beyond to make sure that our residents feel the joy of the season.”

Read an article about the displays in the Bradford Era.

Member Story #19: Residents and Staff Make Their Own PSA on Fighting COVID-19

Residents and staff at the Gurwin Jewish Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Commack, NY, prepared for the expected fall surge in COVID-19 by creating a public service announcement of their own.

View the video on YouTube.

The 45-second PSA video focuses on simple infection control practices such as mask-wearing, hand-washing, getting a flu shot, and “doing your part” to stop the spread of the disease. Seven residents and 3 employees appear in the brief PSA.

Like Bradford Ecumenical Home, Gurwin has also developed a drive-through holiday display on its campus.

Member Story #18: Affordable Housing Residents Prepare for Stay-at-Home Thanksgiving

St. Paul's Senior Services, San Diego, CA, is preparing for a Thanksgiving under the most restrictive “purple tier” rules just imposed by California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The organization is encouraging its affordable housing residents to stay home for the holiday.

Nonetheless, a special meal is on tap for the holiday. The community’s large on-site restaurant will be open with spaced seating, by reservation only. Residents must be masked upon entry and will be temperature-checked. Most residents are expected to have their meals delivered to their apartments.

“We’re trying to make this a joyous occasion because residents aren’t with their families,” says Amanda Gois, corporate marketing director. “There are lots of decorations, beautiful smells, champagne and wine available as well. We’re really emphasizing that our residents are family to us.”

Staff will help residents with Zoom and Facetime calls with family. Gois says that because so many employees are themselves avoiding family gatherings, a number of them have volunteered to come in on Thanksgiving to help.

Gois says that very few residents are likely to leave the community on the big day: “I’d say 99% will stay here. I’m really impressed with our residents throughout the pandemic, they have taken this amazingly well. A lot of them are optimistic about next year, but this year they say, ‘I’m happy to stay here.’ We’ve taken so many steps to keep them safe, and they realize that.”

Member Story #17: Helping PACE Participants Stay Safe but Connected for Thanksgiving

Element Care, a PACE based in Lynn, MA, is in an area seeing increasing threats from COVID-19.

“The situation in the areas where our participants live is serious,” says Dr. Joanna Duby, medical director for Element Care. “Cases in the communities are increasing daily. We are seeing an increase in positive cases among our participants, our staff, and staff that service our participants from other vendors. We are extremely concerned about the numbers and the possibilities of larger outbreaks.”

According to Duby, the PACE Center is open for medical appointments, some rehab, and for some participants that cannot be at home alone for prolonged periods. There are weekly clinics, for example podiatry and dental, that are also open by appointment only.

Element Care strongly encourages all participants and staff to avoid large holiday gatherings and any travel out of state. Many have been given tools to assist with video visits with family—GrandPads and Avatars.

The activities team is running daily activities the clients can access remotely: Zoom programming twice weekly, bingo 3 times a week, and exercise programs. Holiday-themed activities include Trips Around the World, Name that Tune, and holiday trivia. Element Care has also delivered more solitary activities to be completed in clients’ homes—game packets like word-searches, coloring pages, and seasonal crafts.

Many Element Care clients use GrandPads, purpose-built tablets designed for older adults. According to Laura Wilcox, Element Care manager of recreation, the devices have enabled a large increase in attendance across all of the PACE’s programs. Participants can join scheduled programs and events, while communicating easily with family across country.

Member Story #16: Technology Helps Sheltering-in-Place Residents Celebrate with Family and Friends

With visitation restricted, residents at St. Ann’s Community, Rochester, NY, can arrange scheduled Zoom and window visits on Thanksgiving and Christmas days. From the onset of COVID-19, St. Ann’s paired staff with SNF residents to be companions and help residents communicate with families. These volunteers—many of whom are non-clinical—are asked to sign up 2-hour blocks of time or help their specific resident “buddy.”

The organization has made significant investments in technology to broadcast all events occurring in its chapel, broadcasting daily to resident floors and rooms. St. Ann’s new YouTube channel, Parkes Family Chapel at St. Ann's Community, makes it easy for families to view and listen along with their loved ones remotely to Mass, music, meditation, and other presentations.

Sr. Mary Louise Mitchell, director of pastoral care, sent this inspiring message of Thanksgiving to the St. Ann’s community:

Dear Friends,

This Thanksgiving our hearts and minds turn first and foremost to our elders. Our loved ones have endured months of separation from family and friends. Many daily enriching experiences such as donuts on Sundays in the lobby, bingo on Monday and Annie’s tavern on Wednesday afternoons are gone too. During this time I have heard many elders share stories of life during the wars of the 20th century and how they survived because of their faith and love of family. Their stories embody hope. For our elders, hope is the gift of recognizing that no matter how hard life is and no matter how much they must endure, they trust that love will see them through.

As a community we are most grateful for the witness they offer us daily. And it is in light of this gratitude, we will joyfully celebrate Thanksgiving in the midst of the pandemic. Our elders will feast on a traditional turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Staff will be available to offer window and zoom visits with loved ones. We will be broadcasting our Thanksgiving Mass at 10 AM in the Walter and Barbara Parkes Family Chapel at St. Ann's Community. Families and Friends can join us by going to to access the YouTube channel.

Our elders know from experience that hope comes at a cost. The cost is accepting the reality of suffering. As St. Paul says: Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope does not disappoint because God’s love is always present. Regardless of what is happening, our elders remind us to continue to love; because love is what will see us through this pandemic and our entire lives!

Member Story #15: Residents Sheltered in Place in a “Partial Lockdown” State

Horizon House, Seattle, WA, is in a state with a partial lockdown order, and is advising residents to spend Thanksgiving onsite. Its statement to residents says, “Per Gov. Inslee's month-long partial lockdown order, we recommend that our residents celebrate Thanksgiving here at Horizon House. In addition, residents should not visit with each other in apartments. Our gym, salon, pool, and social spaces remain open with limited capacity, sanitation stations, and social distancing. The updated community guidelines are in effect from Nov. 16 - Dec. 14, 2020.”

According to Brenda Thompson, director of culture and engagement for Horizon House, the organization will continue the same screening protocol measures it has followed for months. This includes a series of questions upon re-entry that help determine if a resident should be asked to quarantine until a further evaluation is conducted through our clinic nurse.

No visitors are allowed. The assisted living and memory support staff are coordinating video calls to keep residents in touch with family. The dining room is closed for dining-in, but residents can place food orders for pick-up and delivery.

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, all employees will be given a gift with a thank you card. A decorated table will be put out Monday-Wednesday of Thanksgiving week where staff may stop by to pick up gifts. Staff working on Thanksgiving day will also receive a grab-and-go meal box. The employees will fill out a meal card in advance to select their meal preferences.

Member Story #14: More Member Ideas for Celebrating Thanksgiving

The Oaks at Denville, Denville, NJ, a Springpoint life plan community, conducted a Turkey Trot the week before Thanksgiving. As described on the community’s Facebook site: “The Oaks held their annual Turkey Trot today for charity. Residents placed nonperishable food items and holiday toys outside of their apartments and our resident trotters went around picking up the items for a workout! All items are donated to local charity. What a wonderful way to kick-off the holidays!”

At Cape Albeon, a life plan community in St. Louis, MO (part of the St. Andrew’s Resources for Seniors System), independent living residents will be able to have 2 guests in their apartments on Thanksgiving day, with a full dinner delivered.

Unable to take in visitors, The Gurwin Family of Healthcare Services, Commack, NY, has begun accumulating Thanksgiving videos from families and staff to compile into one grand project—to be played on Thanksgiving day for the residents.

Gurwin will continue offering appointments for drive-up visits on Thanksgiving day, and will also be providing residents with a special holiday meal and gift. Staff members who work on Thanksgiving will be treated to a festive meal in the Gurwin cafe.

Member Story #13: Extra Food Services to Keep Residents Out of High-Touch Places

Vinson Hall Retirement Community, McLean, VA, is encouraging residents to remain at home for Thanksgiving, but to accommodate those few who would like to leave campus for the day, the organization is providing a “micro catering menu” that would eliminate the need for them to visit grocery stores and other “high-touch” crowded places.

Haider Mahmood, Vinson Hall’s director of dining services, says the community is providing an on-site farmers market where residents can purchase food before Thanksgiving to take with them off campus. Additional foods that are not part of the day’s menu selection will also be available for all residents, along with desserts, wine selections, and more.

“Staff can do the same,” Mahmood says. “We want to give people the opportunity to get everything from here instead of going to stores. We’re also offering staff a full-blown meal they can take home to their immediate families.”

At Vinson Hall, dining rooms will be open with the usual cleaning, social distancing, temperature checks, and other precautions to protect diners. (Tables have been modified with a plexiglass barrier down the middle, to allow 2 unrelated people to eat together.) Residents wanting to stay in their apartments can have deliveries.

“We’ll also surprise them with special touches such as bottles of apple cider, holiday cookies, and other things we’re working on,” Mahmood says.

“With the current surge, we’ll require additional precautions,” he adds. “The residents who go off campus will have to be quarantined and monitored when they return for a 7-day self-monitoring period. Those who stay away overnight will need to quarantine for 14 days, and also be tested on day 6 and day 13. During that time frame they won’t be able to participate in any communal activities.”

Member Story #12: Finding Ways to Accommodate Family Visitors During Thanksgiving Week

Covenant Woods, Mechanicsville, VA, is instituting detailed plans for keeping residents and staff safe over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Among residents in skilled nursing, assisted living, and memory care, only 2 plan to leave the community on Thanksgiving (one of them for a full month), and both will have to quarantine in place when they return.

For the residents staying home, all may have a Thanksgiving meal with up to 3 guests. Dining areas are positioned so that guests walk straight from entry to the dining area. All visitors will receive education on infection control protocols prior to the meal and upon screening at entry. Administrator Carrie Davis says that, as of Nov. 18, more than 80% of the residents indicated they would participate in the guest program.

“We are not testing or requiring self-quarantine for residents after the Thanksgiving meal,” Davis says. “They will sit at round tables, with masks worn (except while eating) and social distancing. If guests and residents make physical contact, then the resident will have to be on isolation following the meal.” A plexiglass barrier will separate residents from visitors at each table.

Thanksgiving meals will be served Monday through Wednesday of Thanksgiving week, in 4 separate 90-minute reservation windows between 11:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Staff will clean and disinfect between meals. Health care and assisted living residents will eat in a multipurpose room that will be split into 2 halves. Memory care residents will have 2 vacant rooms on the unit set aside for special meals (with family) for up to 4 people.

The Monday-Wednesday meal times were created in order to accommodate the number of guests expected; Thanksgiving Day will be celebrated for residents, but visitors won’t be allowed. Out-of-town family visitors can be scheduled for the Friday after.

“Because physical touch is important, when residents come into the dining room they’ll be in full PPE, and we’ll allow a few moments for their guests to give hugs. Once guests sit down staff will help remove the PPE, but no additional touch will be allowed after that. We are working on a way to take pictures, using a Plexiglass partition, that will look like they are standing together in a group.

Independent living residents may leave or stay at home for a catered meal, and one IL dining venue will be open. Set visiting hours have been set aside for IL visitors to be screened. Those residents were given an opportunity to have family over for meals, and to pre-order delivery from our dining services.

Davis—like many other LeadingAge members we’ve interviewed—cautions that the best-laid plans may be changed if the coronavirus forces more restrictions: “We have found ourselves working on back-up plans in case our positivity rate runs too high next week for inside visits.” That plan would include significant use of telecommunication technology to allow residents and family to virtually dine together.

Member Story #11: Creating Ideas for Thanksgiving/Holiday Season Fun

Bradford Ecumenical Home, Inc., Bradford, PA, is planning to make Thanksgiving fun for residents and staff who are weathering the holidays while sheltering in place.

Residents and their families have been adding “Thankful Feathers” to a turkey display. The colored paper feathers were sent to families, along with residents and staff, to write what they are thankful for. The turkey and his growing trail of thankful feathers are on display in a central area.

During Thanksgiving week, a “Friendsgiving Dinner” is being catered for employees as a way of letting them know that we are thankful for their dedication to residents. Staff will serve Thanksgiving meals to residents while wearing turkey headbands and hats.

Thanksgiving activities will include Trivia with Tracy (the dietary manager), programming from It’s Never 2 Late, and because of some fortuitous NFL scheduling for this season, the Pittsburgh Steelers fans in this western Pennsylvania community can see their team play Baltimore in a Thanksgiving Day game.

As always, staff is assisting with Skype visits for families.

When the organization had to cancel the annual bus trip to see Christmas lights, staff decided the lights should come to residents. The Festival of Lights will, according to Staff Development Coordinator Jolene Schuessler, “bling out our facilities like a good old fashioned Clark Griswold light show. Families and community members will be able to drive by our Christmas light display all through the Christmas season.”

Member Story #10: “Turkeypalooza” Brings Meals to Community-Based Elders in a Time of Need

The Athens Community Council on Aging provides many community services in northern and eastern Georgia. This Member Ideas and Inspirations story published early in the pandemic described how the ACCA Bentley Center for Adult Day Health, a LeadingAge member, was forced to close its adult day centers but shifted its efforts toward meal delivery to community elders.

Amy Lancaster, ACCA director of development & communications, wrote us this note about her organization’s current activities—including an update on the Bentley Adult Day program—on Nov. 19:

“Turkeypalooza brings together community partners like Campus Kitchen at the University of Georgia, who help us ensure that no senior in our community is left out this holiday season. We raise funds leading up to Turkeypalooza day (Nov. 23) with the goal of providing Thanksgiving meals to older adults in the community—either as a plated meal or a turkey with all of the fixings.

“This year’s goal was to raise $14,500 to provide 1,350 meals. The Athens-Clarke County community answered with donations of $22,800. We were absolutely blown away by this response and are very thankful and appreciative. This funding will cover the meals and our senior hunger initiatives for a year. We also received donations of turkeys from a local business, canned foods were also collected to help supplement the bags of food, and fresh produce will be brought in that will go out in the bags of food. Campus Kitchen will be prepping the plated meals all weekend, safely in shifts, and will deliver the plates to us on Monday.

“A team of volunteers will be on hand at ACCA starting very early Monday morning to help us distribute the turkeys and plated meals. We will have a drive-thru pick-up at the ACCA campus Monday morning for those who are able to drive to the agency. For those who are unable to get out and about, our staff and volunteers will safely deliver with contactless deliveries.

“Bentley Adult Day has not reopened for in-person activities. The staff are conducting safety check phone calls with all existing clients, and have done some socially distanced driveway visits to help with the isolation many [clients] are facing. They have set up a virtual activities calendar to assist in that area as well, and have even dropped off activity packets to clients. The caregiver support group is meeting virtually via Zoom.”

Member Story #9: Provider Spells Out Protocols for Holiday Celebrations

At The Park Danforth, Portland, ME, the organization’s Resident and Family Update for Nov. 16, 2020, addressed protocols for the Thanksgiving Holiday.

The overwhelming majority of residents have indicated they will be staying home (on the campus) for Thanksgiving. The main dining room will be closed and dinner will be delivered to each apartment on the day before the holiday.

On Thanksgiving morning, staff will deliver a muffin and coffee door-to-door to all residents with a Happy Thanksgiving Day wish.

Residents who attend a family gathering, upon returning, will have to answer screening questions and have their temperatures taken. They will be asked if there were any attendees from other states, and if other attendees at the gathering live in a congregate setting.

Independent living residents who attend a gathering including guests from “exempt” states (Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont) will also be asked to self-isolate for 14 days, but will be able to pick up mail, take out trash, take walks alone, sit outside alone, and come and go by vehicle.

Those who attend gatherings with people from any “non-exempt” state will have to quarantine for 14 days without leaving the apartment except for medical appointments. Those residents will have meals and mail delivered. The same rules will apply to those who attend gatherings with people from any type of congregate living setting.

Residents of Clark’s Terrace, the assisted living community, who leave campus for a holiday gathering will have to quarantine for 14 days in their studio upon their return.

The Park Danforth will also pause housekeeping services will for 2 weeks, and family visits are discontinued for all residents.

Member Story #8: Preparing for Holidays—and New Fall Cases

“Our mantra has been that we do not need to fear this virus, but we do need to respect it,” says Michael Flaherty, president and CEO of Taylor Community, a 2-site life plan community based in Laconia, NH.

When we spoke to Flaherty on Nov. 17, Taylor was COVID-free, “but it is percolating all over the [surrounding] neighborhood,” he says.

“We’ve got 2 populations,” he adds, “but they are separate. In our licensed buildings there are no visitors, and residents can’t go anywhere. We took a different approach with our independent living buildings, based on our spring experience.”

All activities and dining are now shut down for independent living, but visitors are allowed and residents can leave.

An outdoor visitation space that was very popular in the summertime has been made into a more permanent outdoor tent that has power and heat for the winter.

“We just try to reinforce education, and we’re letting residents work under the same restrictions as the rest of New Hampshire society has,” Flaherty says. A daily newsletter constantly reminds residents to wash hands, social distance, and stay home as much as possible.

Hazard pay has been re-instituted for staff to go at least through the holidays.

For Thanksgiving, meals will be delivered to resident rooms, and managers are coming in the morning to deliver them to rooms. The general manager of dining is a former restaurant owner, and she promises a special meal for the day.

Member Story #7: Reiterating Straightforward Advice for Holiday Safety

For Buckner Retirement Services, Dallas, TX, keeping residents and staff educated about risk during the holidays is a priority.

Kaley Lockaby, marketing director for Buckner, has made an excellent video spelling out best practices for keeping residents and staff safe, especially in preparation for Thanksgiving and the December holidays.

Lockaby’s remarks include: “This year, our teams have the challenging responsibility of protecting our communities from the coronavirus, in addition to making it a special time for all, and we need your help. In-person gatherings are the largest threat to the health and safety of residents, due to the potential exposure to COVID-19 and the rising spike of cases in Texas, not to mention the flu.

“While residents are always free to come and go from the community, this poses a great risk to the community as a whole. That's why we're making the strong recommendation that residents avoid attending off-campus gatherings. We understand the heartbreaking reality of this request, and it isn't one we're making lightly. Team members are also being encouraged to make the same sacrifices this year and our communities will conduct daily rapid testing of all associates the week after Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

The video goes on to spell out protocols for mitigating risk, including infection control practices, avoiding large gatherings, asking family members to isolate prior to seeing Buckner residents, and asking family to be tested.

Lockaby reminds residents that those who leave for an overnight will be required to isolate for 14 days upon their return to the community. It also urges awareness of symptoms that may appear to be simple allergies.

Member Story #6: Meal Options to Keep Residents at Home on Holidays

Bluestem Communities, with 2 sites north of Wichita, KS (Schowalter Villa in Hesston and Kidron Bethel Village in North Newton) is encouraging residents to stay home for Thanksgiving, and making the traditional meal easily available for residents.

Director of Communications Rachel McMaster says that dining services is offering a traditional Thanksgiving lunch that is available to all residents in assisted living and health care, and in independent living through delivery to their door or pick-up.

The Water’s Edge, a restaurant at Schowalter Villa, is offering a take-and-bake Thanksgiving meal to independent living residents. The meal feeds 2, can be picked up on the days leading up to Thanksgiving, and then reheated on Thanksgiving Day.

Bluestem has encouraged residents to celebrate holidays just among households, but offered tips to incorporate larger groups of family and friends via Zoom. Some ideas included sharing recipes beforehand, so everyone could eat the same food in different places. Zoom meetings where you keep traditions alive, such as having everyone share what they are thankful for.

Member Story #5: Overcoming Holiday Loneliness and Isolation

Maple Knoll Communities, Cincinnati, OH, is working to counteract feelings of loneliness and anxiety among residents and their family members. These feelings can be particularly acute during holiday periods, such as Thanksgiving Day and the December holidays to follow.

Megan Gresham-Ulrich, vice president of marketing and business development for Maple Knoll, describes what her organization is doing:

“While we are unable to host indoor and outdoor visits at this time, we are equipped for virtual visits and are more than happy to assist with scheduling and logistics. One unique thing we are doing is called “I’ll get pie with a little help from my friends.” We are encouraging families to bring in their loved ones’ favorite desserts so we may serve it with their Thanksgiving meals. We are also making sure activity staff is here for Thanksgiving Day to do Skype visits.

“For assisted living, we are doing a social-distanced ‘Friendsgiving.’ Residents will be served a gourmet meal while enjoying entertainment and spending time with friends at a safe distance throughout the week.

“During December, we are offering families the opportunities to call in and leave a special message for their loved ones—which we will write down and deliver with either a poinsettia plant or a poinsettia fleece blanket. We will deliver these the week of Christmas. We will also have a roaming hot chocolate cart where we will distribute hot chocolate, holiday cookies, and a holiday gift to each residents room, apartment, or villa.

“Of course, the usual crafts and holiday movies leading up to Thanksgiving and Christmas will occur with the residents. Some other things we are doing include encouraging those in the community, local schools, business, etc., to make holiday cards. Second, we are working on virtual visits to local holiday spots, such as Christmas light viewing, that residents can watch on our in-house television station and resident app.

“We are continuing to provide counseling services throughout campus for those struggling with isolation from families.”

Member Story #4: Thanksgiving Celebrations Customized for all Levels of Care

Cypress Cove, Ft. Myers, FL, has Thanksgiving plans crafted for multiple levels of care.

Cypress Cove has broadened its delivery options for enjoying a Thanksgiving meal. Special menu items include she-crab soup, multiple salad selections, traditional turkey and stuffing, seared halibut, or honey glazed ham, along with a variety of sides.

The community’s normal buffet spectacular, which has been shut down during the pandemic, has been replaced by 4 90-minute seatings beginning at 11 a.m. on Thanksgiving day. Seating will be limited to 70 people per time slot; residents will be offered 4-top seating, socially distanced. Residents will enter at their prescribed dining time, masked until eating, and then be required to depart the large dining area masked and socially distanced.

Independent living residents can receive in-room deliveries for lunch and dinner. At the community’s assisted living, skilled nursing, and assisted memory care communities, identical meal selections will be delivered for residents, but with some twists:

  • The Inn at Cypress Cove, an assisted living complex, will feature outdoor dining in the community’s large, landscaped courtyard. Pumpkin-pie ice cream will be served at Thanksgiving-themed decorated tables. The Inn will be continuing with scheduled in-person family visitations, or with virtual visits available for those not able to visit their loved ones during the holiday weekend. To make sure that every resident gets a visit, The Inn’s “blessing cart,” filled with special treats, will be making its way around to each resident’s apartment for delivery of holiday goodies.
  • The Lodge at Cypress Cove, a skilled nursing community, will serve the traditional Thanksgiving dinner, and will be active throughout the week with many pumpkin-themed activities, including a pumpkin pie ice-cream social. Residents can add thoughtful recollections of the holiday on their large “Gratitude Pumpkin,” using fall-colored Sharpies. Scheduled in-person visitations and virtual family visit options will continue there.
  • Therapy center staff, led by Aegis Therapies, has added its own twist to the holiday season. From Nov. 1 through Jan. 1, the Mead Therapy Center is hosting what they have called “Quarantine Together: Holiday 2020,” to inject some fun and to build rapport into treatment sessions. For Thanksgiving, there is a “Thankfulness Tree” where residents are encouraged to cut out a paper leaf and write on it what they are thankful for. Leaves are then hung on the tree.

Staff at Cypress Cove are sharing in the festive and thankful holiday time, assisting in decorating hallways, activity rooms, lounges, and resident rooms.

In Thanksgiving week, the holiday tradition for staff continues when all will receive a free turkey. Any turkeys remaining afterwards will be donated to a nearby low-income community of need.

“We are very cognizant that this holiday season will be emotionally difficult for many residents, family of residents, and staff,” says Executive Director Mary Franklin. “We sought to raise the bar this holiday season and help everyone shed any pandemic stress through a happy, calm climate filled with programs of hope and thankfulness.”

Member Story #3: Preparing for Thanksgiving for a Multi-State System

At Acts Retirement-Life Communities, based in Ft. Washington, PA, culinary teams have come up with some creative ways to help residents safely enjoy the upcoming holidays. Some communities (Acts is a multi-state system) are offering catering for Thanksgiving to serve residents’ family members inside their residence (a half turkey and all the trimmings to serve up to 4 people).

Other special touches to make it residents feel more at home for the holidays include:

  • Extra helpings: residents can request double portions packed in their takeout meals. “We have a number of residents choosing not to come out into dining rooms for meals,” says Patrick Plumadore, vice president of dining and nutrition services for Acts. “We’re telling them, if you want extras, tell us. It’s the one holiday when overindulgence is expected!”
  • Thanksgiving leftovers: Culinary teams are coming up with creative ideas for the day after Thanksgiving, like turkey/cranberry/stuffing sandwiches and other meals you would traditionally have after the big turkey dinner.
  • Special treats in the lobby: Residents can be served warm apple cider and ginger snap cookies, plus coffee, in the lobby as a special treat during the Thanksgiving holiday week.

Dining rooms will be open Thanksgiving week, though that could change site-to-site based on what different states decide to do. Tables will be 6 feet apart, and residents must be at least 36” apart unless they live together. Temperatures will be taken at hostess stands; screening questions will be asked, and wait staff will be in full PPE.

Plumadore says that in December, Acts will pilot a facial recognition system by MealSuite in some communities. The system will help with automatic seating, and it also automatically reads temperatures while scanning faces.

Families will not be allowed in dining rooms, but will be allowed in residents’ apartments or cottages. “We’ll do package meals for them to dine in their apartments or homes,” says Plumadore. “We are doing this on the health care side, but not getting a lot of takers. Families there are more likely to want to take residents out.”

Member Story #2: Multi-Site Provider Says the Little Details Really Matter

United Church Homes, based in Marion, OH, is a multi-site provider with a wide range of approaches, customized for each community.

“At a few communities we have positive COVID cases, so we have quarantined residents there—and that really changes the way we’re engaging with them,” says Amy Kotterman, director of customer experience. “Some [celebration] plans have had to change as needed.”

Communities with active COVID outbreaks have isolation areas that have staff dedicated only to those residents. Where there is a quarantined “nest” of residents, says Kotterman, other residents are sheltering in their rooms and all staff have N95s and face shields. So celebratory activities need to be done in hallways, and of course there is no visitation, group activities, or open dining rooms.

Other plans from around the UCH system include:

Many communities have in house TV channels, where thankful stories from residents are shared. Sunday services may have Thanksgiving themes. One community has a resident who has authored several books about his county; staff will do readings from them.

UCH has employees known as “virtual visitor guides,” whose main job is to connect residents and families via virtual visits with a tablet; they’ll be very active during the holidays.

One community life director, inspired by the traditional Macy’s parade for Thanksgiving, is passing out helium balloons Wednesday, and plans are underway for some kind of parade.

Another community is planning bingo with a twist: Thanksgiving food names instead of numbers. “They are in southeastern Ohio, and they love their comfort food, so there will be another specialty meal one day next week in addition to Thanksgiving,” says Kotterman.

All communities will get the full meal with all the fixings on Thanksgiving day.

UCH communities have done a lot of outdoor decorating, along with entrances and courtyards. One community in Sandusky reached out to local farmers, who donated haystacks and pumpkins to decorate everywhere around the campus. One of the farmers donated smaller pumpkins, which are now being carved into little bird feeders to be placed outside resident apartments.

“We’re trying to do everything we can to continue some of the activities that were previously in place,” says Kotterman. “Providing flowers, Thanksgiving porch visits, in-house TV channels putting on talent shows, and cooking shows.” One will do a cooking show where they’ll make one of the treats they’ll serve on a tea cart.

One community has a volunteer group of people who bring their dogs—in costumes—and take them window-to-window on the outside. They’re coming a few days after Thanksgiving and will do so again in December.

For those communities with open dining rooms, tables will be limited to one person each, distanced, with masks worn inside and out. “We’re looking at festive place mats and colored napkins to show it’s a special day,” says Kotterman. “What can we do to recognize these are the holidays? Little details matter significantly.”

Member Story #1: Recreating the Usual Festive Feeling in a Time of Restriction

“Normally on Thanksgiving day, our campus is filled with families visiting, with hundreds of people coming to dining rooms or resident apartments,” says Cheryl Sheehan, director, marketing & communications at Elim Park, Cheshire, CT.

2020 has changed all of that, so for this provider, the challenge is to find ways to make the holidays festive, even if indoor visitors are not allowed. As of Nov. 18, Elim Park had no COVID-19 cases in the health care center, and just one in independent living—who is recovering in a hospital.

Before the big day, the organization will deliver Thanksgiving baskets filled with pumpkin bread, apples, Amish preserves, and more.

A trivia challenge has been created with the help of area businesses, town offices, local police and fire departments, and the public library. “It’s a virtual trivia challenge, based on Christmas movies,” says Sheehan. “All these plans have to be in a safe environment. We have about 30 residents signed up, with tables spread out in a common area; we’ll do it every Wednesday for 6 weeks.”

Elim Park’s executive chef is creating festive pop-up stations around the community, with special desserts or other holiday-related foods such as pumpkin whoopie pies or pistachio mousse.

In independent living, “Turkey Tuesday” will be a campus-wide event: 7 stations set up around the building will feature activities: word games, ladder ball, beanbag toss, shuffleboard, and more. Residents who accomplish them all get a prize, Staff will monitor the stations to be sure residents are distanced and protected.

On Thanksgiving day—if Elim Park is still COVID-19-free, there will be 3 seatings in the dining room for the meal. “We’ve asked residents to sign up with regular dining partners,” Sheehan says. “We’re also delivering meals free [to residents’ apartments], with all the fixings.

After Thanksgiving, there will be a big push to decorate outdoors, with more than the usual lighting: “Normally it’s a winter wonderland here, but we’re going all out this year with additional lights and a tree-lighting ceremony on Dec. 4,” says Sheehan.

Elim Park has an on-campus theater, the Nelson Hall Theatre for the Performing Arts, that hosts entertainment for residents and the surrounding community. Though it is closed to the usual public shows during the pandemic, Elim Park’s internal TV channel, EPTV, is using the theater as the site for a variety of exercise, entertainment, and resident talent showcases broadcast internally. There are also CEO updates every week.

For staff, the organization is doing raffles for gift certificates, and is providing a prepackaged Thanksgiving dinner to pick up. Staff on duty Thanksgiving day will also have the full dinner.


For more information about what LeadingAge members are doing to celebrate the 2020 holidays and protect against COVID-19, and for guidance on holiday activities, see these LeadingAge articles:


Visit our COVID-19 resources section for more resources.

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