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How Senior Living Communities Are Keeping Residents Connected

An employee delivers care packages at Maple Knoll Village.
Courtesy of Maple Knoll Communities
An employee delivers care packages at Maple Knoll Village.

Nursing homes and senior living communities are looking for ways to keep their residents connected while most are being quarantined for their health.

Friends Fellowship in Richmond, Ind., is setting up Skype and FaceTime sessions, so are Otterbein Senior Living and others. Communities are delivering activity care packages and finding ways to collect voice messages and daily family pictures.

Maple Knoll Village is putting out a call for people to send their residents cards and notes.

"Especially with those school-aged children that are stuck at home looking for something to do, send some notes out and we're going to get those out to all of our residents," says Megan Ulrich, vice president of marketing and business development.

For safety, mail will be opened by gloved employees, disinfected and held for 48 hours before distribution. Ulrich says the goal is to make sure every resident gets something. Otterbein Senior Living tells WVXU it's working on a plan for a similar program.

Some communities have in-house radio and television stations and say they're stepping up programming on those outlets to keep residents informed and entertained.

"We have a resident app on everyone's phone and we've been pushing out some games and different entertainment via that," says Ulrich.

Gary Horning, vice president of marketing and communications, says Otterbein Senior Living is crafting plans to increase elder/family connectivity and combat social isolation. The company's list of ideas range from scheduled video chat sessions and phone calls for all residents to collecting daily pictures and identifying key worries from family members and setting up times to address concerns.

The company is also planning virtual tours to places like museums, amusement parks, travel destinations and more to be distributed via an in-house television network on or individual's tablets, along with live streams of classes, performances and activities.

A resident's grandchildren stand outside Ohio Living Llanfair with homemade signs while chatting with their grandfather via iPhone on Thursday, March 19, 2020.
Credit Courtesy of Peg Ashbrock / Ohio Living Llanfair
Ohio Living Llanfair
A resident's grandchildren stand outside Ohio Living Llanfair with homemade signs while chatting with their grandfather via iPhone on Thursday, March 19, 2020.

At Ohio Living Llanfair, staff are taking coffee klatches and smoothie breaks to resident's doors. Executive Director Jean Morgan says they're holding door-side exercise classes, too.

"The residents come and stand right outside their door so they're keeping the social distance and they're doing exercises together."

They're posting pictures of residents involved in activities to their Facebook page, and Morgan says they're trying to facilitate a way for family and friends to send in their own images via Facebook.

"We are always concerned ... about whether our residents are experiencing loneliness and boredom, so our staff are attuned to making sure residents are engaged and have things to do." Normally that would be in a group setting, she says. "As far as being able to engage the families and residents together, I think that as this continues we're going to get more and more creative."

Family members have been showing up outside the facilities to hold up signs and wave while talking with their loved ones by phone.

The location is also participating in a social media challenge with other communities called "Make Happy Go Viral" using the hashtag #OhioLovesElders.

"We're urging people statewide to find creative ways to bring moments of happiness to elders anywhere throughout Ohio who can't have visitors. We are encouraging and challenging each other to spread this message statewide."

Colonial Heights & Gardens in Florence reports staff are delivering meals along with a joke of the day and maintaining small groups.

"Currently, to keep people engaged and entertained, we are doing things like taking an ice cream cart door to door, distributing word search, adult coloring books and pens, crossword puzzles, and Sudoku puzzles, as well as distributing any books requested," writes Sales & Marketing Director Pam Huesman in a statement to WVXU. "We have a large library on our main floor and we are also encouraging the residents to visit our library. No more than nine people in any room at any time."

They're also hosting games in small groups, playing resident requested music through the PA system, providing iPads for video chats with families, and are organizing a scavenger hunt.

Copyright 2021 91.7 WVXU. To see more, visit 91.7 WVXU.

Tana Weingartner earned a bachelor's degree in communication from the University of Cincinnati and a master's degree in mass communication from Miami University. Most recently, she served as news and public affairs producer with WMUB-FM. Ms. Weingartner has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including several Best Reporter awards from the Associated Press and the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists, and a regional Murrow Award. She served on the Ohio Associated Press Broadcasters Board of Directors from 2007 - 2009.