GI long-term care facility adapts to "new normal" during pandemic

GRAND ISLAND, Ne. (KSNB) - No visitors inside the building.

Residents at The Heritage at Sagewood can use a 'window chat' to safely communicate with friends and family during the pandemic. (Source: Heritage at Sagewood)

Confined mostly in their rooms.

Meals brought to their doors.

Wearing masks if they leave.

The pandemic has become a lengthy reality for the residents and staff at The Heritage at Sagewood, an assisted living and memory support facility.

But there are some silver linings.

They're not only learning how to live with this situation: They're learning how to embrace a new 'normal,' and enjoy what life's thrown their way.

Marilyn Green has been a resident at The Heritage at Sagewood for nearly two years.

The coronavirus has changed almost everything in her life. The hardest part is not seeing her family.

"I miss them terribly. I miss my family a lot," Green said.

But staff found a solution. They created a 'window chat' where families could safely visit with their loved ones from the outside of the building. They can call each other over the phone, and watch one another through the glass.

Green said it's a "fantastic idea," and something she's done a few times with her son and grandkids.

With help from staff, residents can also use tablets provided by the facility to video chat with each other and their families.

"The people that work here, that are in directorship and so on, they have just done everything possible to make things nice for us," Green said. "We are pretty limited in what we can do, but we're lucky. Actually, we're very lucky."

Families can also email photos and updates to the facility every week, which are then shared with the residents.

With their social distancing and safety measures, as well as the facility's extra cleaning procedures, Green said she feels safe there.

Beyond that, Green said the staff has even stepped into a sort of family roll, helping her through a recent difficult time.

"I lost my sister about a month ago, and people here were so very thoughtful and kind to me. I mean just really went out of their way. And I appreciate that very much," Green said.

In an effort to continue community enrichment and social distancing, staff came up with another idea: 'Doorway activities.'

People can sit in their doorway, where they're spread apart, and play games like Bingo, enjoy a mobile happy hour and listen to music played on the piano by one of the facility's associates.

They even had a Cinco de Mayo celebration that way.

"We make the situation work is what we do," said Pamela Taylor, executive director of The Heritage at Sagewood. "So those normal things we use to do, we try to bring that to the world where we have to (live) now and still adhere to the directed health measures to still make this a good quality of living for these folks."

Since some residents might miss animal interactions, Heritage at Sagewood also organized a visit from miniature horses, dogs and other pets.

Green said her best advice for everyone right now is to learn how to entertain yourself, which she does by reading and writing letters.

Taylor said they look forward to eventually opening their communal activities in phases, and will likely have to change dining and activities for awhile.