Both to adhere to the medical needs of seniors and keep their anxiety regarding COVID-19 at bay, local senior living facilities have enacted creative techniques to keep up morale.

The facilities have had to take heightened precautions to protect what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention coin one of the most vulnerable populations. Necessary measures include screening all essential workers when they enter and exit buildings, wearing masks and gloves and keeping visitors out.

But to ensure seniors are maintaining positivity amid reports that they are the most susceptible to the illness, care facilities are taking other steps.

Kellee Horner, director of Parkview Senior Living in Maryville, said she could tell the seniors were beginning to feel down without visitors and activities.

“They were getting really ornery and depressed,” she said. “Really they were just depressed. So we thought let’s just bring it to them.”

After having to cancel visitation and group activities, Horner and her team took to walking door to door with treats from a portable cart — including pizza, ice cream sundaes and a “happy hour.”

Other facilities have taken similar steps to ensure seniors feel appreciated during this time.

Blount Memorial Morningview Village Senior Community and Brookdale Sandy Springs organized social distancing parades in which families of residents made signs and drove by waving to their loved ones.

“Our hearts have truly been hurting for the residents and their families. With them being separated right now, it’s the very least that we could do,” said Leslie McInturff, MorningView Village administrator. “We hoped to lift spirits, spread a little cheer and give everyone something to look forward to, and I think we did that. You could see it on the faces of the residents, their families and our employees.”

Residents sat six feet apart and wore masks to comply with CDC standards. Many of the seniors held signs as their families and members of the community drove by waving pompoms in convertibles.

According to the CDC, people above the age of 65 and those who live in retirement homes are at higher risk for severe illness due to COVID-19.

In Tennessee, 22 long-term care facilities had reported having COVID-19-positive residents as of April 22, a Tennessee Department of Health special report on nursing homes stated.

Some 75 residents have tested positive for COVID-19 and 37 have died in those facilities — the closest being Williamsburg Villas in Knoxville with two residents testing positive and one having died from the virus.

Senior living homes in Blount County have had no positive cases of the virus as of May 5. As the county starts reopening per the latest executive orders from Gov. Bill Lee, different facilities have different practices for reopening.

Parkview has begun slowly reinstating in-person activities, Horner said. Residents can participate in bingo with the condition that only one person sits at each table.

Asbury Place in Maryville, which falls under the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, will continue distancing the residents and only allow essential visitors until further notice, Communications Director Cathy Canning said.

But while visitors are not permitted, Asbury will take other steps to make sure residents still are cared for emotionally.

Asbury Assisted Living Administrator Carla Rafferty said the staff is helping the seniors use iPads to video chat with their families.

“It’s kind of fun to see them do that because they’re a little bit taken off guard because it’s a little bit like talking to a television, and they didn’t realize it could talk back,” she said. “But it’s been a fun adventure because they hear about all of these technology options, but actually being able to use them is fun for us to reveal to them.”

In addition to providing the option of video chatting, Asbury also has teamed up with Clayton-Bradley Academy, which has students making homemade cards to deliver to the residents.

FirstLight Home Care, a care service provider in the county, also has teamed up with local day care centers to deliver homemade cards and pictures to seniors who may not be otherwise receiving them.

Owner Ben Crawley decided to make it a competition — whichever day care made the most cards would receive a prize. One donated 500 individual drawings.

“We thought, ‘Let’s get children involved,’” he said. “Because who is it who they can’t see? They can’t see their families.”

Though difficult, many seniors have accepted the halted visits and limited access to activities.

“As we try the best we can to explain why we’re asking them not to go outside or have visitors or whatever the guideline is, it’s difficult to communicate that,” Rafferty said. “But it’s always been received with thankfulness.”

Follow @sshreports on Twitter for more from county government reporter Shelby Harris.

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