ALONE, TOGETHER Aldersgate residents, staff adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

Martha Neal, a Philadelphia native who lives at Aldersgate Retirement Community in Meridian, enjoys a day outside planting flowers. The facility is trying to keep things as normal as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a place accustomed to sharing meals, hugs and card games, residents of Aldersgate Retirement Community in Meridian suddenly find themselves having to keep their distance. 

Executive Director Lawona Broadfoot said strict measures are in place to protect residents and staff from the spread of COVID-19: temperature checks and questionnaires start employees' shifts and visitors are banned, with exceptions for end-of-life situations. 

This is the new normal.  

“Everyone feels restrained in many ways, where they can’t get too close together,” Broadfoot said. “The whole situation for elders and for the staff is extremely stressful.”

Birthday celebrations for two residents, 100 and 101, required families to share their wishes through a closed window.  

“It was just so sad that they couldn’t have their family members come and be a part of that, but we tried to make it as special as we could for them,” Broadfoot said. 

State health officials announced Thursday that two long-term care facilities in Lauderdale County had COVID-19 outbreaks, but Broadfoot said that there were no confirmed cases at Aldersgate as of Thursday afternoon. 

ALONE, TOGETHER Aldersgate residents, staff adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star

Aldersgate Retirement Community residents Edna Ross and Karlen Bagley relax in rocking chairs outside the facility while they visit and enjoy the sunny day. 

The facility has 54 residents in assisted living and close to 130 in independent living, showing bravery in the face of uncertainty.

Every day at 4 p.m., you will hear them singing “Amazing Grace” from their rooms. 

There are dance-offs, at a distance, and bingo games played from front doors.

A roving piano player on the maintenance team has been entertaining residents, pulling a keyboard on a cart to all of the floors.  

 “They love to hear him play,” Broadfoot said. “That really perks them up.”

Once the dining room closed, dietary aides had to deliver meals to residents' rooms.

One began writing scriptures on the food containers. 

“She had written on there, ‘God is our protector,’ so they really sincerely, deeply consider this an opportunity to serve our elders and they’re just doing a great job,” Broadfoot said. “They just pitch in and do what’s needed.”

Family and community members have also worked to curb loneliness and stress, dropping off care packages with candy, magazines and laundry detergent.

Churches have sent paper towels and gift cards for the staff.

When there weren't enough masks, one resident made them herself. 

Others have baked cakes and written cards, thanking the staff for keeping them safe. 

“I just hope it continues that way because none of us knows what’s ahead,” Broadfoot said. “It’s really touching to be part of something like this, even though it’s not a positive thing, but there are positive things that’s happening along the way.”

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