Last summer, months before any of us were aware of the Covid 19 virus and all the changes that it would bring to our daily lives, I moved into a cottage at Woodland Pond.
This was a major change for me, since I had been living in the same house in Gardiner for over 46 years. I found Woodland Pond to be a wonderful, welcoming place, and it is a location from which I could easily continue to see my friends in the Gardiner area, without the burden of taking care of an older home that increasingly needed more time and attention than I was giving it.
According to Sarah Hull, resident services director at Woodland Pond, interactivity is a key reason why Woodland Pond is a thriving Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC). Since its inception almost eleven years ago, the residents and staff of Woodland Pond have consciously created a caring community that was never insular.
An important component of everyday life here had always been regular interaction with the greater New Paltz area. Visitors had always been welcomed and they had made significant contributions. Likewise, Woodland Pond residents have participated in activities and events in and around New Paltz. As of March, 2020, this aspect of Woodland Pond has changed drastically. As a CCRC, Woodland Pond has independent living residents, as well as those who need assistance or skilled nursing.
Although all the residents are considered high risk with regard to the current virus, technically, New York State’s nursing home regulations only apply to the health center, not the independent living areas.
During the first week of March, the state implemented a no visitors policy for the health center. As more became known about the seriousness of the Covid 19 situation, in addition to advocating social distancing and wearing masks, management of Woodland Pond decided to shut down the dining room and forbid all visitors to Woodland Pond, including to independent living.
This meant that, although I have my own semi-detached home, I could no longer invite friends over, and the many residents with family members in the area could no longer allow them to visit. Perhaps the residents who felt the impact of the new regulations the most were couples who were prevented from visiting each other if one lived in the health center and the other in independent living.
In order to protect everyone from the virus, over the next couple of weeks, more restrictive policies were implemented. The group activities and bus trips to concerts and plays were discontinued. There were no more exercise classes, no more chorus rehearsals, no more card games, no more play readers nor book group discussions. For a couple of weeks there were movies with all the chairs placed over six feet apart and the swimming pool was open. Then the movies were stopped and the pool was closed.
But life did not come to a standstill: the exercise classes were soon broadcast over our inhouse channel. Over the same channel, residents have volunteered to interview each other, and read short stories, poetry and inspirational passages. There have also been broadcasts of musical performances and special birthday celebrations.
As the weather improved, more residents have taken advantage of the wonderful opportunities we have to walk outdoors around the Woodland Pond property and the adjacent Millbrook Preserve. Our residents’ council and a few other committees continued meeting over Zoom.
Staff have assisted residents who needed help with technology to help maintain good communication with family members, including the couples who were no longer allowed to visit in person.
I have been particularly impressed by the high level of communication that management has strived to maintain with residents throughout this time. It has been clear to me that they really did want to know what residents needed and how we all felt.
A longtime resident who has several children in the area, Joan Kleinegris, sings the praises of how Woodland Pond has handled this current pandemic. When asked what she particularly values, she stated emphatically, “I feel safe here.”
She pointed out that since her health situation places her at particularly high risk, safety is of the utmost importance. In turn, her children are grateful that their mother is in a safe environment. Joan copes by staying in close contact with her children with frequent telephone calls, texting and semi-weekly zoom sessions. And she uses facetime with her grandchildren. What she misses the most is that she cannot touch her family members.
Back in March, the management team at Woodland Pond implemented policies quickly to protect all the residents, and so far, their caution has paid off. At this point, not one resident of Woodland Pond has tested positive for the Covid 19 virus.
According to Michelle Gramoglia, President and CEO, the decision to shut down was obvious.There was no question that action was necessary. What she is finding much harder, is how to proceed with re-opening. Balancing residents’ desires to get back to “normal”, with the need to continue to protect all of us who are at risk is proving challenging. While the steps that are being taken to re-open are not at the pace many of us would like, the attitude amongst most of the residents is that the health of our Woodland Pond community is important and that it is up to all of us to do our part to insure our continued success to protect our neighbors.