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Keeping busy key for seniors in quarantine

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POLSON ­— Many assisted living facilities across the country are in lock down to protect high-risk residents from the COVID-19 virus, but it hasn’t stopped the folks at Providence St. Joseph Assisted Living, 11 17th Ave. East, from finding a unique way to keep up morale.

“We have been celebrating special birthdays,” said resident Maureen Theiler, 82, during a phone interview. She was referring to two residents who are celebrating the centennial mark. Amelia Gipe turned 100 years of age on Oct. 25 with cake and ice cream. The party will continue for Katherine Schnase’s 101 birthday on Dec. 30.

Theiler said it isn’t easy being in quarantine. She misses seeing friends outside the facility and looks forward to playing a few games of bridge when the pandemic is over, but for now, the residents break up the monotony of being in lock down by looking forward to parties. 

Theiler said residents are doing fun things on a daily basis during the lock down, including breaking out the video games to play Wii bowling and golf. She said she also attends an exercise class five days a week to stretch the muscles. Growing flowers and vegetables in mini gardens is another activity. Others can be found playing cards. 

Before the pandemic, residents’ social activities were more varied and included visits with family and outside friends, shopping trips, attending church, taking rides to Glacier Park on occasion and attending social gatherings. All that came to an end when the pandemic started.

“When our CEO Marion Cooper decided that we needed to lock down, we trusted that judgment,” Theiler said. “And I have to tell you, we are not a nimble, follow-the-crowd bunch of people. We have world travelers and people who worked for the CIA. We thought about what was happening with the virus and decided it was the best decision to lock down. COVID has been found near here and so we need to be careful.”

Theiler recalls that the facility went into full lock down when the pandemic first hit. She said restrictions began to relax as the COVID-19 numbers stayed consecutively low, but when the numbers began to creep back up in mid-September, restrictions began again. 

“We are locked in right now. No church, no social gatherings, and no family visits. It’s crazy to be locked in,” she said, “but my philosophy keeps me going. I believe we are fighting a battle, and we need to do what’s best to keep safe.”

She follows safety guidelines, including staying in the facility and avoiding gatherings, but it isn’t easy. “We are tense, on edge, but the trick is to stay busy and find the good things, like our birthday parties and meals. We had these delicious Louisiana barbeque ribs and sweet potato salad one night. You hold onto those moments.”

Theiler developed another way to stay grounded during this unconventional time. “I get up early every morning and dress well,” she said. She has a love for fashion and selecting fabrics and colors adds a bit of joy to her day. She also enjoys helping to plan residents’ birthday parties. 

“This pandemic has taught us that we need to celebrate more of the small things in life and take a moment to enjoy them,” she said. 

She added that the residents have a rich history of experience and celebrating who they are is important. Schnase, for example, is about to turn 101. She was born in 1919 in Yugoslavia and came to Chicago when she was four-years-old. “She has this amazing gift for whistling,” she said. “We love to hear her coming down the hall whistling sweet tunes.”

Gipe grew up on a farm in Niarada, Montana. She taught at Valley View School in Polson for a few years. “What brings her delight are her 12 grandchildren and 35 great-grandchildren,”   Theiler said.  

Theiler became a resident at the facility in March just as the pandemic was getting started. She decided to move in two years after her husband Ray passed away. The couple shared a life together in Polson for about 60 years. They raised six children, along with dogs, cats and rabbits. She worked as a clerk for Lake County for about a year and other jobs in town from the newspaper to an insurance office.

“I worked in a lot of places up and down Main Street over the years,” she said. “We really had a wonderful life here.” She thought for a moment before adding, “I would never have guessed we’d be dealing with this pandemic, but it’s here, so we are doing the best we can with it and looking forward to when it’s over.”   

The St. Joseph assisted living center isn’t the only facility taking measures to keep residents safe. The American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, represents more than 14,000 nursing homes and assisted living communities across the country that provide care to approximately five million people each year, released a report showing nursing homes in the U.S. could see a third spike of COVID cases due to the community spread among the general population.

“Recent data released by John Hopkins and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that with the recent spike in new COVID cases in the general U.S. population, weekly nursing home cases rose in late September for the first time in seven weeks after new cases dropped significantly throughout August and early September. According to John Hopkins, COVID cases in the general U.S. population rose by 62,139 cases per week in late September correlating with an uptick in nursing home cases during the week of Sept. 27.”

“As experts have repeatedly noted, COVID-19 cases in a surrounding community is a top factor in outbreaks in nursing homes. Dr. David Grabowski, professor of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School recently stated: The strongest predictor of whether or not we’ll see cases in [a particular setting] is community spread.”

Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA/NCAL, said COVID numbers in a surrounding community have an impact on assisted living facilities. “The number one factor in keeping COVID out of our nursing homes, so we can protect our vulnerable population is reducing the level of the virus in the surrounding community,” he said. “While the support we have received from Congress, the Administration and other public health agencies have helped our facilities fight this battle, we could still see another wave of COVID cases caused by the sheer volume of rising cases in communities across the U.S. given the asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic spread of this virus.”

The report continued: “With new COVID cases now rising in the general population of 38 states, Parkinson said, now more than ever, Congress needs to end the partisan logjam and prioritize frontline healthcare workers and residents, particularly vulnerable elderly populations.

Most of the $175 billion Provider Relief Fund provided by the CARES Act back in April has already been distributed and Parkinson said healthcare providers, including long-term care facilities, will need additional funds to continue its response to the COVID pandemic heading into the cold and flu season, which provides new challenges.”

“Without replenishing funds for federal and state agencies, healthcare facilities, including nursing homes and assisted living communities, could find themselves less than completely prepared for the challenges of the upcoming winter season, which could inevitably result in an uptick in new COVID cases,” stated Parkinson. “Without adequate funding and resources, the U.S. will repeat the same mistakes made during the initial outbreak last spring and the major spike over the summer. We need Congress to prioritize our vulnerable seniors and their caregivers in nursing homes and assisted living communities, by passing another COVID funding package.”





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