So far, but yet so close. 

Mary Kay Wood and her family celebrated her mother’s 89th birthday outside her screened-in patio at a Mt. Juliet assisted living facility recently – a proper distance because of COVID-19 precaution regulations. 

Wood has spent nearly every year of her life with her mom, Jean Hamilton, on her birthday. And, though the celebration was complete with a birthday song, balloons, cake and birthday joy, they had to be many feet apart because Jean is a resident at Carrick Glen assisted living facility. 

Last month, the Centers for Disease Control recommended guidelines to protect the elderly and at-risk people from the coronavirus. Those included assisted living facilities closing to any visitors. Residents are quarantined within the facility and now many are double-quarantined to their rooms. 

“Two years ago, she was doing great and living on her own,” said Bobby Wood, Jean’s son-in-law. “She had some health problems and lost some of her sight. She moved to Carrick Glen recently.”

That Tuesday, Mary Kay, Bobby, and grandchildren Kelsie and Trey delivered a lemon Bundt cake and a rainbow of balloons to the facility’s front door to be delivered to Jean’s apartment. They set up their portable chairs six feet away from Jean’s enclosed porch and had a birthday party.

“We were lucky the weather was good,” Bobby said. “If not, we would have stood outside holding umbrellas. We were determined to celebrate no matter what.

“She loved it and said she was sorry she couldn’t share the delicious lemon cake. My wife talks to her every day and we just thought outside the box.”

Gary Keckley is the CEO of Goodworks Unlimited, which is the parent company of 26 assisted living facilities in Tennessee and Kentucky. 

“We are called to do good works,” he said during a streaming statement. “We love and care about your mom and dad and sometimes that means we need to make decisions that are not popular and are inconvenient. That’s what we did. We decided we need to close our facilities to other than health care professionals working with residents.”

Keckley said this quarantine may, “cause a possible sense of isolation for your moms and dads.” He advised calling them frequently, have Facetime contact, sending cards and more. 

Rhonda Hoida is the executive director at Carrick Glen. She said there are 83 residents in their assisted living area and 35 filled villas. 

“Basically, we will not allow people in except essential workers,” she said. “We are keeping our residents active and families are doing everything they can to keep in touch.”

Lunch is served to each room and residents’ temperatures are taken each day.

Another resident at Carrick Glenn, Weibena McKee, had her 87th birthday last Thursday. She has dementia, but absolutely loves cards. Her daughter, Amy McKee Hamilton, knew she could not physically be with her mom on this special day so she took to social media and asked anyone so inclined to please send her mother a card. 

“She just loves cards and keeps them forever and reads them over and over,” Amy said. “It breaks my heart I could not be with mom this birthday and I thought some cards would really cheer her up. I don’t remember a time in my adult life I could not be with her.”

When Amy and her daughter, Zia, went to Weibena’s window at a safe distance the birthday lady came over holding her doll. Zia snapped a selfie. Did she get any cards? So far that day nearly three dozen. They are taped around her doorframe and in a pile beside her to read over and over. 

Providence Place of Mt. Juliet is also an assisted living facility. Executive Director Marquita McCarty said her staff is doing what all other facilities are doing. 

“We are checking temperatures of residents and staff daily,” she said. “We have very heightened sanitation methods, like wiping down the hand rails, chairs and everything. We are using Lysol and doing everything possible.”

She said it’s a big responsibility.

“They are like my own family,” she said. “We are taking it day by day and hoping and praying this ends soon. I know the residents are lonely.”

The residents stay in their rooms and are provided with books, magazines, crosswords and can Facetime families. Families also visit outside windows.


Similar impact in Lebanon

In Lebanon, the Pavilion Senior Living is dealing with the same changes. Heather Sadler is the chief marketing officer of three Pavilion facilities. 

“We are using social distancing, Facetime and Hangouts,” she said. “We are very systematic with sanitation and taking temperatures.”

She said one resident comes by every day and talks to her loved one through the window from the sidewalk. She said the are working on providing music in the courtyards. 

Activities Director Staci Rose’s job has always been to provide engaging activities for residents. She’s had to take it up a further notch during this time.

“I’m like their cheerleader,” she said. 

They abide by the 10 or less in group rule. Residents can play Bingo at safe distance, watch movies, do crafts, exercise and have Bible study. 

“Families understand why they can’t come,” she said. “We are keeping everyone’s best interests at heart. Our residents are so sweet. This breaks my heart and we just want it to be over.”

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