Coping with Coronavirus - One Retirement Community's Response to COVID-19

April 15, 2020

Coping with Coronavirus: Hope vs Reality

One Retirement Community’s Response to COVID-19

Late last year, the word “coronavirus” slowly seeped into our lexicon, with all its uncertainties. Today, it is a word we use and hear and read about non-stop. While there is still much we still don’t understand about this disease, one thing is for certain: COVID-19 arrived without a rule book.
Weeks ago after it became clear that it was simply a matter of time before COVID-19 would threaten the U.S. on a mass scale, Andrew Applegate, president and CEO of Arbor Acres United Methodist Retirement Community in Winston-Salem, NC, formed proactively a Coronavirus Task Force. The Task Force included members of the executive team and directors from all departments, including healthcare, dining, activities, housekeeping, buildings and grounds, and administration.

Initially, the team met every few days. Soon it became necessary to meet daily—sometimes multiple times a day--with local, state and federal health officials to monitor and keep abreast of the rapidly changing landscape and mandatory directives. As a continuing care retirement community (CCRC), the Arbor Acres team had to consider the needs of residents, staff, families and vendors in all levels of care—independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care.

Beginning in February, Andrew started communicating with independent living residents, families of residents in licensed healthcare areas, and staff to prepare them for the likely changes ahead based on input from health officials and recommendations from the Task Force. In his communications, Andrew always has been trying to strike a balance between concern for the health and safety of everyone in the community and the need to implement incrementally more restrictive measures.

At some points along the way, when noncompliance with required measures has become an issue, Andrew’s communications took on a necessarily urgent tone as he stressed a harsh, hard-hitting reality: noncompliance was putting the entire Arbor Acres community at risk. 
As of this writing, Arbor Acres is not aware of any COVID-19 cases on campus. The increasingly strict measures put into place over the past weeks appear to be working. Residents, families, staff and vendors are now fully on board with the changes and grateful to Arbor Acres for proactively implementing them, even before required to do so by health officials at the local and state levels.
It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 has disrupted routines at Arbor Acres in a major way as residents and staff live into the reality that this disruption may last for at least a couple more months. But, after several active weeks of implementing massive change, Arbor Acres is finally settling into a new sort of rhythm.
Here is a summary of the measures Arbor Acres has taken gradually over the past few weeks to keep residents and staff safe:
  • Launched a website page devoted to COVID-19-related updates and the steps being taken to keep the campus safe. In the spirit of transparency, the page includes links to the communication pieces being sent to residents in independent living and the families of residents in the licensed healthcare areas to keep them informed.
  • Required all staff and residents to wear face masks in common areas or when in proximity with others, such as during interactions with healthcare staff
  • Closed the campus to family members and visitors and unapproved vendors
  • Implemented temperature checks at the main gate 24/7 for all staff and approved vendors each time they enter campus
  • Increased cleaning standards across campus
  • Discouraged off-campus travel by mandating that any resident who leaves campus for any reason and for any length of time must self-quarantine for 14 days upon their return
  • Closed all dining rooms. Independent living residents can drive by and pick up two prepared meals each day during the lunch hour. Residents in healthcare now receive three meals per day delivered to their rooms
  • Cancelled all group activities--indoors and outdoors
  • Closed the Wellness Center and all campus hair salons
  • Cancelled all non-emergency transportation
  • Introduced a bi-weekly grocery box delivery service for residents in independent living offered through an approved vendor, Pride of the Morning
  • Arranged for weekly deliveries of wine and beer by an approved vendor
  • Mitigated isolation by populating Arbor Acres in-house TV station and wellness app available to residents through their iPads with interesting and interactive content that can supplement our normal cable line-up and streaming services.
In addition, staff in the dining and wellness departments are helping break up routines for residents with special offerings:
  • Grilling out hotdogs with all the fixings each week as a lunch alternative
  • Baking special holiday treats
  • Providing daily prompts to encourage residents to write in their Arbor Acres-provided journals
  • Organizing a patriotic Golf Cart Parade that followed a route around the entire Arbor Acres campus to show support for our country in this unsettling time
  • Creating a Social Distancing Root Beer & Coke Float Walk Up and Drive-Through
  • Encouraging residents to display their Moravian Stars outdoors as a sign of hope and solidarity
  • Livestreaming on the internal TV stations weekly cooking demonstrations created by the dining and wellness staff
  • Expanding the items available in the campus gift shop to include a wider variety of food and personal sundry items
Like many organizations, Arbor Acres has found it difficult and challenging to respond to the threat of COVID-19 in order to maintain the safety of residents and staff. Arbor Acres is fortunate to have so far been spared its first case, but, as Andrew has said on many an occasion, “It’s a matter of when, not if, and we must be prepared.”
Arbor Acres is already at work preparing for the “when,” hoping with God’s grace for the “if.”  While we hope it will remain empty, a wing in Strickland Place skilled nursing has been isolated and is able to care for up to ten COVID-19 cases.
In his message to the Arbor Acres family on Good Friday, Andrew offered these words of inspiration:
“Be encouraged. Passover and Easter are about hope overcoming what was thought to be the insurmountable. While this holy season we will be, by necessity, apart from our faith communities and families, we also have an opportunity unlike any other in our lifetime to take God at His word that He alone is able to give hope at the darkest of hours.”


Residents and staff decorated 40 golf carts--and themselves—in red, white and blue for a Patriotic Golf Cart Parade around campus to show support for our country in this unsettled time.

Moravian Stars, a traditional Christmas decorations, are making an off-season appearance all over campus as a sign of hope and solidarity.

The closure of all dining rooms on campus gave the Arbor Acres’ Dining Arts department an opportunity to create the ultimate fast food solution—drive-by meal pick-ups delivered to residents in their vehicles!

The on-campus Village Gift Shop has been stocked with a sundry of new items needed by residents during the COVID-19 shut-down such as shampoo, dishwasher detergent and healthy snacks.

Outdoor grilled hot dogs with all the fixings give residents a comfort-food option each week.

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