It’s the first word that comes to mind when Kate Schneider talks about working with assisted living facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When things get tough, we see how not only the staff, but the residents and families pull together and how they want to support us,” said Schneider, an SJC Long Island alumna who oversees recreation programming for the memory care units at The Bristal Assisted Living facilities. “We look out for each other. Rewarding, yes; it inspires you to do the best you can do.”
Schneider is a programming and dementia specialist with Ultimate Care Management, which manages The Bristal Assisted Living facilities and 305 West End Assisted Living. She earned a therapeutic recreation degree at St. Joseph’s in 1999.
While the outbreak of the novel coronavirus has brought about some challenges for recreation departments in assisted living facilities and nursing homes throughout the country, staffers like Schneider and fellow SJC alumna Alyson Lauriguet are doing the best they can to adapt.
Navigating Changing Times
Lauriguet, director of life enrichment at Village Walk Senior Living in Patchogue, puts particular emphasis on working with her team to keep morale up for the 102 residents they care for.
“Our residents are used to big group programs, bus trips every day and being able to venture out into the Village of Patchogue, so not being able to do their ‘norm’ can be really hard for them,” said Lauriguet, who earned a therapeutic recreation degree from SJC Long Island in 2017.
“It is difficult with this health crisis to explain to residents who don’t always understand what is going on, why their families haven’t come to visit them, or why their loved ones can’t come inside when they come to wave from the windows.”
Lauriguet and her team have been doing one-on-one room visits, assisting residents in using technology so they can participate in video calls with their loved ones. They’re also changing up the way they do programming to keep everyone active.
“We are trying to do a lot of ‘hallway programs,’ so the residents can see each other while still practicing social distancing and following the CDC guidelines,” Lauriguet said. “Residents sit in their doorway for bingo and exercise daily.”
Staying Positive Through Tough Times
While it’s obvious to check how residents are doing physically, it’s also very important for staffers to be checking on them emotionally.
“Helping each other through these times empowers people, and it gives a sense of control,” Schneider said. “All staff take turns taking a walk with residents while using social distancing. One community had a recreation team member dress as the ice cream man — truck and all! Little spontaneous surprises help us to have something to look forward to.”
It’s also equally important for the employees to maintain their own mental health.
So what’s keeping them going through all this?
“Every night, all my children get together with my husband and me, and we facetime,” Schneider said. “Throughout the day, my children send me pictures of the grandchildren, and it lights up the day! My Bristal family, we keep each other strong. The hardest part is when someone just needs a hug, we can only ‘throw’ one their way. But even that helps.”
Sharing a Message with the Public
Schneider and Lauriguet are encouraging everyone to stay home and do their part, so hopefully soon the residents will be able to see their loved ones again, in person.
“We are all in this together,” Lauriguet said. “Everyone working in health care on the front line right now plays a huge role in someone else’s life. Here, now, more than ever, we are taking care of our residents like our own families, letting them know they are never alone.”
For those looking for a way to brighten someone’s day from home, they can make a card or write a letter for one of the residents at either Village Walk or one of The Bristal Assisted Living facilities.
“While our residents are not able to have visitors, they are getting a lot of donations in the form of cards and letters,” Lauriguet said. “They love this!”
This story is part of OnCampus’ “Answering the Call” series, focusing on St. Joseph’s College students and alumni working outside their homes in essential jobs during the coronavirus pandemic.