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LI senior facilities find unique ways to cope with coronavirus

Students from Lincoln Avenue School in Sayville sent video messages to residents of The Bristal Assisted Living as a way to lift spirits during the coronavirus pandemic.  Credit: Bristal Assisted Living Communities

Even in the age of coronavirus, the residents of Amber Court of Westbury are painting away like they normally do on Tuesdays.

That's the day when the assisted living facility hosts a time slot where the seniors can get creative with brushes and watercolors.

At three nursing homes run by Catholic Health Services of Long Island, grandkids’ smiles beam out of smartphones, tablets and laptops courtesy of Skype and FaceTime, a way that the homes use social media to practice social distancing.

And at the many Long Island locations of The Bristal, St. Patrick’s Day was scaled down — but still a hit — as staffers suited up in pale green face masks that didn’t clash with the sartorial theme of the day.

Long Island’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities are using innovative approaches — including the latest technology, introducing novel visiting policies and altering daily interactions — to keep residents safe, engaged and happy despite the coronavirus threat that has rattled the nation and the world.

“We’re honestly trying to keep their day-to-day routines as normal as possible,” said Allison Miller, executive director of Amber Court, which houses 275 residents. “Obviously, there are some things that they see we have no control over.”

The corps of entertainers who would come to the facility each week haven’t stopped performing at their allotted times — they just launch their gigs from home and the residents see them live through a video link.

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“We’ve been doing that because it’s a familiar face for the residents,” Miller said. “They know their same entertainers.”

St. Patrick’s Day at The Bristal this year was not entirely unlike it’s been in previous years at the 15 locations on Long Island. There was holiday cheer along with the requisite green balloons, green ties and green hats — but staffers wore face masks to minimize the threat of coronavirus spreading.

The Bristal’s 2,250 residents are hooked up to online lectures, and also chat with family and friends through Skype and FaceTime and other platforms. They even download single-use Bingo cards off the internet so as not to disrupt the popular game.

These measures are necessary in facilities catering to the elderly because, experts have said, the disease tends to most severely harm people with health conditions that come normally with advancing age and health conditions such as high blood pressure, heart disease, lung disease, cancer or diabetes. The vast majority of people who succumbed worldwide were elderly.

The fact that it is highly contagious also makes distancing a matter of life and death, experts said.

“Because we suspended family visits early on, we are leveraging a variety of 21st Century devices to ensure a generation who remembers rabbit ears on TV sets and transistor radios can connect with loved ones,” said Maryellen McKeon, senior vice president of operations. “To ensure social distancing, we are also providing meals in their apartments."

Bristal residents, who now attend services at houses of worship via video links, are also privy to a treat from some of their younger neighbors.

“We have arranged for third-graders from the Lincoln Avenue School in Sayville to send video messages to the residents of The Bristal to let them know that even though their family and friends are unable to physically visit them, they are far from alone,” McKeon said.

Technology is being put to work in similar ways at Catholic Health Services’ Good Samaritan Nursing and Rehabilitation Care Center in Sayville, Our Lady of Consolation Nursing and Rehabilitative Care Center in West Islip and St. Catherine of Siena Nursing and Rehabilitation Care Center in Smithtown. The three facilities are home to up to 685 residents.

“Our recreation, social work and nursing staff are enabling virtual visitation using FaceTime and Skype as well as assisting with daily phone calls to those visitors and family who would routinely come every day,” said Tim Kelchner, a spokesman. “When our residents do receive guests, we accommodate as best we can with a friendly smile or wave through the resident’s windows. Although our daily routines have been modified, we are still making every effort to keep a sense of normalcy in the lives of our residents and their loved ones.”

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