Things are different now. But Levy is grateful for the precautions taken by the residential facility, even the ban on visitors.
"It makes things harder in some ways, but the people here understand why this was done," Levy said.
Since the coronavirus began to accelerate in recent weeks, the message from staff has been clear and unequivocal: We want to keep you as healthy as possible. Staff, he said, has been "exceedingly careful" in response to the virus threat as it instituted a series of changes, big and small. But residents recognize that they need to be careful at this time, he said, and the mood is generally good.
At Channing House, a community of 250 seniors on Webster Street in downtown Palo Alto, residents have also accepted the new conditions with good humor, said Rhonda Bekkedahl, executive director and CEO of the senior facility. Since the outbreak began, Channing House has been rapidly adjusting its policies to respond to the recent flurry of announcements and restrictions from public health officials relating to coronavirus, including the "shelter in place" order that six Bay Area counties announced on Monday.
As of Tuesday morning, there haven't been any cases of COVID-19 at Channing House, Bekkedahl said. But like other residential communities, the Webster Street facility has had to rethink how it's delivering services. Staff holds daily meetings to discuss the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and local health department and then adjusts facility operations accordingly, Bekkendahl said.
These days, vendors, contractors and family members of residents aren't allowed to enter the building (with limited exceptions for hospice care). All activities that involve gatherings have been canceled. And all residents and staff receive temperature checks when they leave the building and come back, Bekkedahl said. Anyone showing any kind of symptoms would be asked to self-isolate in their apartments, she said.
Given the imperative of keeping residents indoors, Channing House is actively looking for opportunities for remote programs. Bekkendahl pointed to several remote programs offered by senior-service organizations Avenidas and Covia, with residents participating in groups over the phone. On Tuesday afternoon, she was preparing to hold the facility's first conference call with residents, which includes a presentation and allows participants to ask questions. Another would follow on Wednesday, she said.
"They understand this is very serious," she said. "The shelter in place has them confused, so we're answering a lot of questions about the shelter-in-place order. Generally, they're in good humor. It's a resilient group — so far so good."
At the Villa Siena Senior Living Community in Mountain View, it's been a challenge to keep seniors healthy and protected from the coronavirus while avoiding the negative mental health impacts that come from isolation, according to the community's executive director, Corine Bernard.
She's been on conference calls conducted daily among health care providers in Santa Clara County and has been working with her staff to adopt the latest public health recommendations.
To protect seniors' physical health, the retirement community has adopted new precautions. Visitors and outside vendors are no longer allowed in. Employees must have their temperatures tested at the door and undergo monitoring for signs and symptoms of COVID-19, she said.
As a way to offer social interaction, staff members have started an afternoon coffee cart service that provides residents one-on-one visits. Phone calls and FaceTime chats with family members and friends are also encouraged, she said, and staff members can provide tech support to those who need it.
They've also been communicating with residents through regular meetings, she said.
"The best thing you can do is update and give them (the residents) the right information. The last thing you want is for them to follow some of the unverified information," she said. "They're feeling confident the actions we're taking are in their best interest. They're really not that fearful that this is going to happen to them."
Even with these assurances, the shifting conditions can pose extreme challenges for seniors, a growing population that is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. The social isolation that some have already been experiencing is exacerbated by the shelter-in-place order, the ban on gatherings, the canceled events and the temporary closure of senior centers like the ones operated by the nonprofit Avenidas in Palo Alto and Mountain View. The situation can be particularly difficult for seniors who age at home, particularly if they already have health problems and are socially isolated.
It doesn't help that senior centers and programs operated by Avenidas and the city of Mountain View have stopped for the time being.
The one Mountain View program still being offered is the Second Harvest Food Bank Brown Bag program. Eligible seniors can pick up bags of unprepared food via drive-thru the first four Tuesday mornings of the month from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. in the rear of the senior center parking lot, according to city spokesperson Shonda Ranson. The service run through the Community Services Agency offering seniors prepared meals to go is on hold for now, Ranson said.
Jewish Family and Children's Services, which provides senior services to these residents, has had to cancel all of its social programs in response to recent directives from public health officials, said Sue Tenerowicz, the organization's interim marketing director. But the organization has also seen a big surge in requests from seniors who are not going out and need someone to come in and help them.
"Most of our clients are living alone and are requiring some assistance," Tenerowicz said. "What is hard for many of them is that they are at such a high risk that they're afraid to go out and they don't have any independence whatsoever."
The nonprofit's caregivers are trained and briefed on precautionary measures for coronavirus, she said. Volunteers call vulnerable residents and talk to them. And its social workers help senior clients perform routine but critical tasks, like buying groceries and getting to their doctor appointments.
Tenerowicz said her organization, like many, has had to adjust its operations in recent weeks and much of its staff now works remotely. But while her team has never seen a situation as extreme as the current emergency, she said it's committed to continue to provide services.
"It's a constant fire drill. But this is what we do. ... This is when we pull together and we do it, because this is when our services are needed more than ever," she said.
Tenerowicz said residents can help by donating to social-services organizations like JFCS (the nonprofit recently had to cancel its annual gala, its primary fundraising event) and by checking in on their neighbors and assisting as needed.
"One of the things people can do is reach out to their neighbors. Keep your distance and do all that — but you can knock on a door and talk to a senior through the door, ask 'Are you OK?' and say 'I'll check on you tonight.' At this time, we all need to do that," Tenerowicz said.
Many Bay Area residents are doing exactly that. Suneil de Tourreil, a downtown Palo Alto resident, reached out to several neighbors who are elderly or immunocompromised and offered to shop for them. De Tourreil has seven neighbors whom she helps out, including a group of women — three in their 70s and one in her 80s — who share an apartment. At first, people were reluctant to take her up on her offer. Recently, they've reached out and accepted it.
"I think this is what needs to happen," said de Tourreil, who has a background in microbiology and who follows a strict regimen to make sure the groceries don't get contaminated and that she doesn't get too close to neighbors who may be vulnerable. "It's not that I'm just delivering this food. There's an intimacy and a social bond that's there."
Joy Zhang, founder of Mon Ami, a Palo Alto-based nonprofit that provides companionship services to seniors by pairing them with volunteers, has recently set up a phone bank to allow anyone around the world to volunteer to make calls to socially isolated seniors. Prior to the crisis, when Mon Ami offered room visits, the nonprofit served close to 500 families, about 20% in Palo Alto. In recent weeks, it has expanded the program to make it available to anyone across the country.
Though the phone bank is brand new, 50 people have already signed up to be volunteers and Mon Ami's capacity now exceeds the demand, Zhang said. Before, the volunteers were mostly college students. Now, it includes many more people, including San Francisco programmers who are working remotely and have more time to make calls.
While JFCS provides critical health and wellness services, Mon Ami offers seniors who live on their own something different: an intergenerational experience. Zhang notes that about a quarter of adults over the age of 65 are suffering from loneliness or isolation. And a quarter of seniors live on their own and are more likely to spend entire days without having a person-to-person contact.
Loneliness, Zhang said, can be stigmatizing. So it helps when a visitor isn't just there to check on a client's medication but is a young person who has an interest in their life story.
Results can be profound. Nora Kusaka Herrero, a 26-year-old with a full-time job at a civil engineering firm in San Francisco, has recently switched from in-person companionship to volunteering by phone with Mon Ami. On Wednesday, she was scheduled to do a second call with a woman in New Mexico who is in her 80s.
"She was telling me that she had lived through the Great Depression and World War II," said Kusaka Herrero, who like many others is now working remotely. "This is just one more thing in the book."
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