Residents of area nursing homes and assisted living facilities have spent much of the coronavirus pandemic isolated, shut off at times from family members and other residents as health officials tried to limit their exposure to a disease that is more deadly to older people.
It was only Nov. 12 that the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services issued guidance suggesting that facilities could open to visits for “all residents at all times,” according the AARP, which tracks pandemic visitor protocols at long-term care facilities across the country.
To battle the potential isolation last year — and facing the loss of many of its own activities — the Grand Ledge Chamber of Commerce adopted 50 residents of area long-term care facilities and those served by other senior citizen programs, providing holiday gifts donated by local businesses. The organization is continuing the program this year, providing gifts to 75 residents of area facilities.
“It really is just to spread some holiday cheer for our elderly citizens,” said Amy Hoyes, executive director for the Grand Ledge Chamber of Commerce. “So what we do is we get the sheets back from all the places and they tell us what they want and then I match them up with a business and I send the business the wishes — basically a Christmas list — then they shop on their own and they do a porch drop.”
More than 81% of COVID-19 deaths occur in people over 65, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An order enacted by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services in December 2020 ordered residential care facilities to prohibit visitors to prevent further spread of diseases and existence of contamination. Visits have since resumed at most facilities.
Meanwhile, the chamber was dealing with its own isolation due to the cancellation of annual events including Grand Ledge’s Christmas parade.
“I felt bad for them being so isolated, so I decided to start an adopt a senior citizen program,” Hoyes said.
Independence Village is one of five area facilities or organizations that serve senior citizens participating in the chamber program this year. Administrator Nicole Bebe said she identifies residents who no longer have family who visit and may be lonely during the holiday seasons.
“They don’t receive gifts, so for them it was very special to them to know that other people cared enough to buy gifts for them,” Bebe said. “We brought the gifts in and you know it just lights up their face.”
The process behind the cause entails; businesses will sign up for the program through the Chamber of Commerce and receive a specific senior name along with an extensive list of things they would like.
Residents participating in the program provide a list of things they would like. Bebe said many of the items are simple things like blankets or clothes, and many seniors request gifts for their pets.
Orthopedic Rehab Specialists Grand Ledge is among the 13 area businesses participating in the program. The company opened its Grand Ledge office this year.
“The person we have wanted sweatpants, blankets and like a couch cover for wherever they live,” said Callie Risch, employee at Orthopedic Rehab Specialists.
This will be the second year Doty Agency has participated in the program.
“For me personally, and for the business, we try to do as much as we can for our community and sometimes it’s hard because everybody has a budget but for me, it’s just more special to be able to help somebody in need than to just help people in general,” said Darlene Lothschutz-Hafner, an agent at the insurance agency.
Heather Deville, owner and stylist at Executive Salon, said she was excited to participate, going above and beyond with the gifts she will gift to her assigned resident.
“I think it’s a great idea that we are able to help take care of our senior citizens who may or may not have any family or family who lives far away,” said Deville, who was sent a list of three things her adopted senior wanted, including toys for her dog and a blanket.
“I’m going to add more things to that gift. Being a hair stylist and in a salon, I’m going to put in beauty products and some things she can try out on her own, and then things for her dog too.”
Chamber raises money for assistance program
The Grand Ledge Chamber of Commerce has distributed donation buckets at member businesses to raise money for the Grand Ledge Emergency Assistance Program.
The Grand Ledge Emergency Assistance Program is a nonprofit organization that provides help to residents who live within Grand Ledge Public Schools. The program “assists with utility bills, transportation, food, medicine, and housing needs.” It accepts donations of food, personal care items, housewares and clothing.
“I thought that it would be a great way for our school to do a great service to the community,” said Kristin Schulte of St. Michael Parish School. “I hope that our families will be as generous this holiday season as they always have been in the past.”