During pandemic, facilities keep seniors connected and busy

Ecumen Meadows resident Lorna James visits with her daughter, Patti Keding of Isle, over FaceTime. (Special to The Globe)

WORTHINGTON — Residents in assisted living and long-term care facilities may be weathering the global pandemic of COVID-19 far better than those who are abiding by stay-at-home orders with stir-crazy children, a spouse or the quiet of being alone.

Facilities throughout the area are, in addition to creating long-term preparedness plans to keep residents healthy, connecting families through video chats and striving to keep daily activities as normal as possible.

At Crossroads Care Center, Thursday was Halloween dress-up day for both staff and residents — just one of many theme days taking place since their facilities went on lockdown March 13. Special snacks are also highlighted each day, from fruit or ice cream to pastries, cookies and cake. Fridays feature Happy Hour.

Crossroads’ Social Services Coordinator and Activity Director Anita Miller said she’s made up fun packs that contain word puzzles and trivia questions, which residents complete and redeem for a prize.

“We do hallway Bingo and devotions, exercises and stuff,” Miller said, noting everyone keeps their physical distance and wears a mask.


“This week we got Girl Scout cookies and had a taste test; and a worker last week brought a rabbit in for the residents,” she added.

Crossroads also bought a new tablet and downloaded Skype, offering it as a way for family and friends to connect with residents through video chat.

Thus far, a couple of families have used it to connect with their loved one at Crossroads.

“(On Wednesday), we did our very first Skype doctor rounds,” shared Jessica Larson, Crossroads’ director of nursing. “It worked a lot better than we were expecting.

“We’re doing anything we can to eliminate anyone that doesn’t need to be in this building,” Larson added. “It should be staff only.”

As a result, families and even the general public are encouraged to send residents some cheer.

“A lot of families are sending emails and sharing photos,” Miller said. “The families have been very understanding because they don’t want to bring anything (illness) in, either.”

The facility’s Facebook page encourages children to make drawings or write letters to send to the residents, added Larson. The page also recently featured images of some of the residents holding signs with messages they wrote to loved ones.


At the Minnesota Veterans Home in Luverne, Administrator Luke Schryvers said the facility invested in additional iPads for staff to offer FaceTime video chats between residents and their families.

“We sent an email out to all of our families,” Schryvers said, noting the response has been great.

“It’s being used a lot,” he said. “There’s a few that have tried Skype and also Zoom — it just depends what family members have on their phone.

“We’ve had all the way from a five-minute conversation up to an hour of conversation," he added.

To follow distancing guidelines, Schryvers said activities and meals are brought to resident rooms these days.

“The residents seem to be doing pretty well with it,” he said.

Schryvers said the veterans home has also established a toll-free number for families to call for daily updates, and the rec department can be called to arrange a video chat with a resident.

At Ecumen Meadows, an assisted living and memory care facility in Worthington, residents are busy entertaining each other as the doors have been closed to the public for more than three weeks.


Spokesperson Sue Lee said there a couple of accordion players and some piano players in their midst, and the musicians have opened their apartment doors so their music can carry down the halls to bring joy to their neighbors.

“Hearing that live music has brought a lot of joy,” Lee said. “What’s fun is that a couple of those people haven’t played publicly before. It’s great that they’re sharing their abilities with others now.”

Also, Life Enrichment Supervisor Cheryl Dinsmore is helping residents connect with families through video chat, thanks to the purchase of some iPads, and is also developing craft activities that people can do from within their apartments.

“They’re creating things for their neighbors, which is really lovely,” Lee said.

Earlier this week, Dinsmore helped a husband and wife connect with their daughter on her birthday through video chat.

“When we use electronics, we’re sanitizing them carefully after every use,” Lee said, noting the facility has also seen family members visiting outside the windows of their loved ones — at least when the weather was nice.

“We’re really encouraging more connection through phone calls, texts and video chats,” she shared.

People are also delivering items for their loved ones — groceries or gift/activity baskets — and a table at the front entrance makes this possible for families without having them come inside the facility.


Ecumen Meadows began doing in-room dining service only on March 21, and stopped all group activities at that point. Still, Lee said staff and residents are finding great ways to interact. Sometimes, it’s as simple as sitting in their apartment doorway to visit with neighbors.

All three of the facilities shared that they have had preparedness plans in place for weeks now to protect both residents and staff.

Each is screening staff every time they arrive at work and also when they leave. This includes taking their temperature and answering questions about their general health.

“If they’re feeling ill or have any symptoms, we encourage them to stay home,” Schryvers said. “We are also having our staff wear masks — that’s more precautionary. We just don’t want to bring anything in to our residents.”

At Crossroads, employees receive free meals during their shifts as a way to prevent them from going out to get food and risk being exposed. Also, since vendors aren’t allowed into the building at this time, the company has ensured its employees get their caffeine fix by keeping pop in the fridge for them.

Keeping vendors out at Crossroads has also meant Culligan deliveries of softener salt are left at the door for staff to haul inside. As for mail delivery, Crossroads moved its mailbox outside. When mail is brought into the facility, it’s held for 48 hours before being distributed to residents as a precaution.

For residents facing end of life, Crossroads is allowing family to visit for five minutes each day, and a Hospice nurse is also allowed to enter. There is strict protocol in place for these visits, noted Larson.

“We’re making sure we’re staying informed and following recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health and Center for Disease Control,” added Marissa Marten, assistant director of nursing.


Marten also noted that anyone who has either been laid off or lost their job is welcome to apply at Crossroads, as there are positions available. And, if there are people who aren’t feeling safe in their home and are interested in temporary or long-term care, the facility also has rooms available.

Julie Buntjer became editor of The Globe in July 2021, after working as a beat reporter at the Worthington newspaper since December 2003. She has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism from South Dakota State University.
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