MONROE — Barbara Ellingson moved into Aster Assisted Living of Monroe about a year ago and was adjusting quickly to the differences from her home in Warren, Illinois. At nearly 85, she was making friends and taking part in the many activities offered.
Sally and Bill Grinnell, of Albany, were happy to have their mother closer to them and would regularly visit and bring her things.
But that changed quickly in March when a national health crisis came into play, ruling out visitors and restricting other activities to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Visiting with Ellingson, a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, is now mostly through phone calls and balcony visits to stay in touch. But they aren’t complaining. They feel the procedures Aster has in place are protecting residents who are part of a high-risk age group.
Aster has worked vigilantly not only to keep its 63 residents safe, but also happy during a difficult time for many to be away from those they love. Sales and Marketing Director Amanda Gerber said staff members are going the extra mile for residents and morale is high despite necessary restrictions.
“They’ve been wonderful,” Gerber said. “They know that everything we’re doing is for their safety.”
Items dropped off for residents are placed into a holding period and sanitized. Anyone who needs to enter the building goes through a screening and sanitizing process. So far, Aster has had no residents test positive for COVID-19, and they are aiming to keep it that way.
Taking residents for walks, spending one-on-one time with them and helping them connect to those they love electronically are just a handful of ways staff members are helping to keep spirits high.
They’ve also seen all kinds of creative ways to connect from families — including banners and signs to celebrate milestones — and even pre-loaded devices brought in to make connecting simple.
When one resident celebrated her 100th birthday the family brought cake and sang through the vestibule to wish her well. Another 98th birthday was celebrated with a parade through the parking lot featuring balloons, spinners, honking and banners.
“The resident was crying — we were all crying,” Gerber said. “It was amazing to share that with her. It’s sad — but also happy.”
On Mother’s Day, Gerber compiled a digital presentation for residents from family members with photos and video wishing loved ones well.
Aster regularly provides meals, housekeeping, laundry, activities, and other personal support for residents who need it, but during this time, they’re going above and beyond. They are shopping for nearly everyone, delivering meals and mail to each room, and are even helping decorate as the seasons change. Staff members are also helping residents tune into online church services and providing support during telehealth visits when needed.
The residents have noticed — and one day pooled their money to purchase a pizza lunch for the staff — a true reminder that “we’re in this together,” Gerber said.
“They all know we’re here to support our residents,” Gerber said of the staff. “They’ve all stepped up. The residents have been great and the staff members have been phenomenal.”
To brighten spirits, staff members have been creative to offer some popular activities. They’ve had BINGO in the hallways, vegetable and flower planting outdoors and even remote control car races. These have allowed social distancing mixed with some fun.
Most recently, Aster decided to bring musical entertainment to the parking lot since many residents had missed the concerts often offered there. Everyone was able to hear either by sitting outside while social distancing or simply opening their window, Gerber said.
This is not the time to open the floodgates. We’re not going to change our ways just yet.Aster Marketing Director Amanda Gerber
They also increased speakers to allow for a little more range for those further away. Sally said her mom was looking forward to it for days.
“Every day she was asking about it,” Sally said. “She was dressing up for it.”
Gerber said the weather was a little cool for the event, but everyone at least made their way to a window to listen, sway to the music, tap their feet, clap their hands and sing along to the Beloit musician.
“Seeing them all so happy was just priceless,” Gerber said. “They all expressed how much they enjoyed it and we do hope to have Jestin (Korleski) and other musical groups come back.”
Although “Safer at Home” orders have been lifted in Green County, Gerber said Aster is following the CDC recommended guidelines and is still restricting visitors at this time. She said they’ve received positive feedback from family members in doing so.
“This is not the time to open the floodgates,” Gerber said. “We’re not going to change our ways just yet.”
The Grinnell couple feels good about that.
“We feel that’s the smart thing to do,” Bill said. “As far as we’re concerned — Amanda walks on water — she follows up, calls us back, and is so responsive.”