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Senior care facility provides community for elderly missing out on family holiday gatherings

A recent study reveals more than 60 percent of caregivers who do not live with their loved one will change their traditional Thanksgiving plans.

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — On Thanksgiving, seniors at First Colonial Inn in Virginia Beach will experience something for the first time in months: community dinner in the facility’s dining hall.

“We’ve always been like a close family here,” said Chrissy Driscoll, executive director of the senior living community. “If anything, we have gotten closer, and that’s why tomorrow is so exciting and special that we can spend Thanksgiving together.”

The facility’s dining area has been closed as part of several mitigation efforts to protect residents from COVID-19; however, the First Colonial Inn recently added another tool that gives Driscoll confidence to safely host a holiday gathering.

“We test our residents and all our associates and essential visitors to the community twice weekly,” said Driscoll. “We recognize that any holiday -- pandemic or not -- can be a tough time, and we want to be there for them as a piece of community.”

A recent AARP survey reveals 8 in 10 caregivers who do not live with their loved ones still plan to visit them over the holidays; though more than 60 percent of people surveyed said they are making adjustments to their traditional holiday plans because of the pandemic.

With the CDC advising against travel and large family gathering, especially with the elderly, families may choose to skip visits to seniors in care facilities. Driscoll and her staff are prepared to step in the gap as families and senior living communities balance keeping people safe and helping elders feel less isolated in an already difficult year.

In a memo released Friday, the Centers for Medical and Medicaid Services advised senior care facilities to use ‘extra caution’ over the holidays. CMS suggests virtual parties with seasonal music and decoration and advises residents not to leave their facilities. However, if families or residents choose to meet outside of the facility, the memo strongly recommends quarantining upon return.

The AARP provides recommendations for loved ones who will miss out on the face-to-face interaction with their older relatives, including going virtual, send multiple cards and notes, and share videos and photos of holiday festivities

Driscoll said families are able to visit the Virginia Beach facility in a designated room that allows for social distancing and includes plexiglass barriers. Staff will deliver food and treats, including apple and pumpkin butter from a local farmer’s market, to seniors who opt out of the Thanksgiving gathering.