By AJ O’Leary
While COVID-19 poses a significant threat to people aged 65 and older, Chapel Hill’s three retirement communities have worked hard to keep the coronavirus pandemic at bay and protect their residents.
All three of the communities — Carol Woods Retirement Community on Weaver Dairy Road, Carolina Meadows on Carolina Meadows Road and The Cedars of Chapel Hill in Meadowmont — have taken similar precautions, including extra cleaning, greatly reduced visits and new staff protocols.
Pat Sprigg, president and CEO of Carol Woods, said the community assembled an infection prevention team in February, led by one of their nurses.
“We know in our hearts that we can’t eliminate the possibility of the virus coming to our campus,” Sprigg said. “What we want to do is to make sure we take every step possible to minimize exposure to the virus on our campus.”
Kevin McLeod, president and CEO of Carolina Meadows, said he is proud of the way his employees have handled the outbreak.
“I think the staff have really hit the challenge head on,” McLeod said.
Sara Flynn-Loy, executive director of The Cedars, said she’s been happy with the way her staff has responded to the outbreak. “At The Cedars of Chapel Hill, the health and safety of our members and team members is our top priority,” Flynn-Loy said in an email statement. “We continue to be focused on supporting them during these unprecedented times.”
All three communities have closely followed the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s current recommendations for retirement communities by closing all communal dining venues, offering grocery delivery directly to residents’ doors, mostly preventing visitor access and only allowing residents to leave for essential doctor’s office visits.
They also have implemented screening guidelines for staff, checking whether they have fevers or other symptoms and requiring them to self-quarantine after any travel.
Sprigg said she thinks isolation is difficult for anyone to cope with. She said she was pleasantly surprised when she learned how some Carol Woods residents have coped — by sewing.
Sprigg said several residents found patterns for cloth masks online and have been making them for both their fellow residents and members of Carol Woods’ staff. “It’s our little production line here.”
McLeod said many places are facing mask shortages, including some retirement communities. That’s why he said he was grateful when an anonymous donor shipped 500 masks to Carolina Meadows on April 10.
“We’re in the same boat as all other communities and hospitals,” McLeod said.
Many Carolina Meadows residents have dealt with social distancing by going for walks and socializing via Zoom, the teleconferencing platform, McLeod said. In addition, he has helped host biweekly town-hall style meetings via Zoom to answer residents’ questions.
“The residents have been very, very savvy about this,” McLeod said.
The efforts seem to have worked. Since the start of the outbreak no retirement communities in Chapel Hill have reported any confirmed cases of COVID-19.
“There’s a lot of misperception about [the] elderly out there,” Sprigg said. “This shines a light on how resilient the elderly population really is and how they are coming together to really protect each other and take proactive steps rather than just standing by the wayside.”