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No visitors: People in assisted living finding new ways to reach out amid coronavirus pandemic
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Ted enjoys a sunny day with his family, making sure to stay behind Manor Lake's fence. Photo courtesy Manor Lake.

Standing 6 feet behind a fence, Janet Davis of Oakwood shared 20 minutes of precious sunshine with her 87-year-old mother.

Although Manor Lake Assisted Living & Memory Care doesn’t allow visitors during the pandemic, many like Davis find ways to interact with their loved ones from afar. 

“It was strange to not give my mom a hug, she’s a hugger,” Davis said. “It’s hard to have a conversation with her with her stage of dementia, but she smiles when she’s happy. She smiled and said my name during our visit.”

Drema Thompson, executive director of Manor Lake in Gainesville, said the facility has taken extra measures to ensure residents are interacting with family and friends while not entering the grounds. 

“They can visit at a window, connect on Zoom, Facetime or Skype,” Thompson said. They’ve done a lot of visits that way.”

For birthdays, Manor Lake has allowed family members to watch their loved ones eat cake and celebrate from the other side of a fence. Thompson said the facility recently threw parties for a 100-year-old and 102-year-old resident.

“We took them 8 feet from the gate, so they could talk to them,” she said. “We’re just making it work. Families have been very understanding and supportive.”

All staff members, nurses and hospice workers are screened before they enter the building. Thompson said their temperatures are taken, then documented. 

Kandi Chavis, administrator of Ashton Senior Living in Gainesville, said her workplace has also implemented screening procedures for those who visit.

She said employees are checked for COVID-19 symptoms, and their temperatures are taken twice a day. Those living at Ashton have their temperatures tested three times a day. 

Unlike Manor Lake, Chavis said Ashton is allowing immediate family members of residents to visit the facility, one person at a time.

“They also have to go through a screening process,” she said. “We’re trying not to isolate them totally.”

Despite permitting some visits, Chavis assures the community that the facility is encouraging people to stay away. The staff have helped residents use video chat applications to communicate with friends and family virtually. 

Davis said although she misses interacting up close with her mother, she appreciates the measures Manor Lake has taken to protect its inhabitants.

“I know she’s happy,” she said. “They post pictures on Facebook, and it helps a lot to see her smile. I know without a doubt that she’s cared for.”

Teela Gray can’t say the same about her 94-year-old World War II veteran grandfather, who lives at Willow Wood Nursing Center in Flowery Branch. 

Up until August 2019, Gray said her grandfather had been living on his own at home. However, after he experienced more complications with his gout, Gray and her mother decided it was time to transition him into a nursing home.

Gray visited Willow Wood a week ago to drop off food for her grandfather; however, she said one of the facility’s staff members declined the gift. 

“I went there and the nursing home came to the door and had it wide open,” Gray said. “My grandfather was standing right behind her, and she said we can’t accept anything. I said, ‘What’s the difference in trucks bringing stuff that y’all are feeding to them?’”

Each time Gray has called the nursing home since it closed its doors to visitors, she said no one has answered. Luckily, her grandfather has a cellphone, but Gray said she’s fearful for other residents who don’t have a form of communication. 

“It’s frustrating because families can’t talk to loved ones,” she said. “It’s sad.”

The Times reached out to Willow Wood via phone and received no response.

Jennifer Henman of Murrayville said The Church of Christ in Gainesville has found ways to connect with its older members, both who live at home and in senior facilities.

People have delivered food to doorsteps and even communion kits for Sunday services, which are streamed on YouTube.

“We’re all watching out for each other, especially those who don’t have children nearby,” Henman said. 

Carol O’Connor, a 95-year-old who lives at Lanier Village, said although she misses seeing her family, she’s happy to be living inside the retirement village.

She’s able to interact with residents and walk outside on the grounds. O’Connor said the neighborhood keeps its inhabitants entertained with movie nights and other activities.

“They’re taking wonderful care of us,” she said. “It’s a lovely place to be in times like this.”

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Doris, who recently turned 102, shares a birthday cake with family members behind a door at Manor Lake. Photo courtesy Manor Lake.
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