The residents of Solstice Senior Living at Bellingham are not used to sitting still. Normally, their days are filled with activities, games, and other social gatherings. Like many of us, their days now look very different.
“I don’t have anybody that’s sick… and we want to keep it that way,” says executive director Larry MacDonald. As I spoke with MacDonald on the phone, I could hear in his voice how much he cares about the residents at Solstice. For him and his staff, the job of keeping everyone safe is personal.
“The people who live here are gems,” MacDonald says. “They’re beautiful people and they all have stories to tell.”
There are 105 residents at solstice, ranging in age from 62 to 105. The staff consists of 24 employees, some full time, some part time. Together, the residents and employees at Solstice form a tight-knit community determined to weather the pandemic by whatever means necessary.
Extreme Safety Measures
“Everything the state, the CDC, that the various states are doing…we’ve basically put it on steroids to ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to keep this place safe,” MacDonald says.
For starters, anyone coming into the building, including outside health care providers, must fill out a questionnaire and have their temperature taken. If their temperature is higher than the previous day’s recording, they’re not allowed in.
On top of this, all staff wear bottles of hand sanitizer on a lanyard around their necks, so they can sanitize their hands throughout the day. Solstice also requires that visiting health care providers limit their clients to Solstice residents only, rather than serving people at multiple locations.
Daily life among residents looks vastly different than it did only weeks ago. Whereas before, dozens of residents would gather to eat in the dining hall, meals are now restricted to a maximum of 20 residents at a time, with groups of 10 at opposite sides of the room.
“Dining to seniors is one of their biggest social hours — they gossip, talk, have fun, giggle…. That’s been limited,” MacDonald says.
The same social distancing measures apply to church services, which some residents now watch on TV in their room. Also on hold are educational seminars and group activities like Jazzercise, bean bag baseball, and Bingo.
To keep spirits high and prevent cabin fever, Solstice recently purchased 100 puzzles, 100 coloring books, and a healthy supply of crossword puzzle books. They’re also hosting games you can play in small groups and without close contact, such as trivia, Jeopardy, and Deal or No Deal.
“We’re trying to make their lives as normal as possible. We’re being creative,” MacDonald says.
Perhaps the most difficult change involves visitation rules. Friends and family are no longer permitted to visit residents at Solstice. Instead, communication happens through phone calls and video chats. Solstice also uses a video testimonial software called One Day that allows residents to record and send video updates to loved ones.
Despite all the changes, residents at Solstice remain upbeat and understanding. “You’re seeing somewhat of a lifestyle change, but they’re being very, very adaptive and very thankful for what we’re doing,” MacDonald says, adding that, for some residents, this isn’t their first global-virus rodeo. “A lot of these people have lived through pandemics… They’ve seen it all,” MacDonald says.
Community Support…from a Distance
When I asked MacDonald how people could help, he didn’t hesitate with his answer. His one request from the community is to “Stay away!”
While keeping a distance is certainly sound advice, community members can offer some support through donations of books, activity baskets, games, and puzzles. All donations must be new, in their original packaging. Games that require individual participation — think puzzle books rather than Monopoly — are encouraged. Food and monetary donations are not accepted.
Those who wish to donate should contact vibrant life coordinator Erin McCauley at 360.671.6060. Individuals or groups who wish to send individualized letters can also ask McCauley for a list of residents.
Despite the current mood, MacDonald remains optimistic for Solstice and the community at large. “I hope, as a society, that we learn something from this…and come out of it stronger, better, and faster when it’s all said and done.”