A Q+A with Copley Activities Director, Cheryl Woodward
As we emerge from COVID, activities are getting back to full swing. It’s the perfect opportunity to hear from our Activities Director, Cheryl Woodward. In this Q&A, Cheryl reveals the challenges that came with COVID, and what’s to come in the future.
2020 must have been challenging for you in terms of creating engaging activities for Copley residents while maintaining social distancing. What activities were you able to do with the residents?
First and foremost, I have to commend my Activity Assistants. As a team we worked together to bring activities to the residents in their rooms. We took some of the basic day-to-day programs such as coffee hour, trivia, bingo, Pokeno, etc. and adapted them so residents could participate in the safety of their own rooms.
We visited all residents each morning offering coffee, tea, hot chocolate, assorted baked goods etc. We ran trivia contests, distributing packets to the residents to complete, later collecting them and providing prizes. Bingo & Pokeno players were given their own bingo/Pokeno cards and chips to keep in their rooms and staff called out the numbers with a microphone as residents played from doorways. Painters remained engaged in painting, but in a one-on-one capacity. They were able to complete a 60” by 140” mural for the lobby. We even entertained by singing karaoke; that is until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Massachusetts Department of Health said indoor singing was not allowed.
We spent a lot of time just visiting with residents and assisting them with reading cards and letters, organizing their belongings, assisting with phone calls and just being a friend. We offered recreational supplies for independent use such as cards, music, puzzle books, books, magazines, adult coloring, specialty foods for religious holidays, etc.
What were the biggest challenges to overcome?
I have faced many challenges over the years, but 2020 was definitely the most challenging year in the healthcare industry, actually in all industries. Who would ever think the world would go through a pandemic, especially in our lifetime? This was a very scary time. This was a time of great loss for many of us, our residents included.
People need socialization. They need a connection, something to live for. In the beginning, families were not able to come in to visit their loved ones. As much as we tried to keep spirits up and to be there for our residents, it still wasn’t the same as having your loved ones with you. As employees, we were able to go home every night. Our residents did not have that option.
Were there any differences between programming activities for residents in the nursing home side versus those in the rehab side during the pandemic?
In the beginning we were not able to provide group activities. Residents spent time in their rooms. We went room to room with puzzles, word games, refreshments etc. We spent time visiting residents one on one and as time went on and restrictions slowly started to ease, we were able to begin activities with residents participating from their doorways.
Now that we are able to gather for group activities, we have one activity calendar of events for the entire care center. All residents are welcome to participate in group activities. Some residents here for short-term care are receptive and enjoy coming to group activities, while others prefer to focus on therapy and return home.
In general, how were everyone’s spirits? How are they now?
It has been a rollercoaster ride with ups and downs, sometimes spiraling out of control. Everything is fine and running smoothly and then COVID happens. Spirits were low. Family members weren’t able to come in to visit. We did window visits in the beginning, which brighten their day for a short period of time. As the weather got warmer, we were able to schedule outdoor visits. Eventually we were able to set up an area inside for family visits as the weather started to cool. Of course these visits remained supervised for social distance and to make sure all protocols were being followed. The best day during all this was the day I was able to tell family members and residents they could have a brief hug before leaving. I saw many tears of happiness as they embraced, something they hadn’t been able to do in months. Everybody needs a hug.
Unfortunately, right before the holidays, we had to close our doors to visitors again. It’s painful to see families apart, especially for the holidays. As much as we tried to make their holidays enjoyable, it’s not the same. We did Zoom calls and FaceTime calls. Residents opened gifts as their families watched on the other end of the video call. We continued social distancing activities from resident doorways and did our best to keep spirits high.
Now we have a full activity calendar again. Fully vaccinated family and friends are able to visit in resident rooms. We are gradually getting back to pre-pandemic routines. Residents who have been here prior to the pandemic are enjoying previously enjoyed programs. Some of our residents who arrived during the pandemic are just starting to discover new talents in our painting and writing classes and develop new friendships within groups. Resident spirits are uplifted with every visit they receive from their loved ones.
Were there any surprises – any silver linings in terms of the pandemic and activities? (For example, a silver lining for some was learning to connect via Zoom and other technologies, something they wouldn’t have learned otherwise.)
Yes, in some ways this pandemic made us stronger. Balancing supervised visits, one-on-one visits and doorway activities improved organizational and time management skills. Thanks to our more tech savvy employees we learned how to use some of the modern technologies such as Zoom and FaceTime. Some residents learned how to use their own electronic devices.
Are activities back to full swing now? What precautions do you still need to take?
Thanks to the vaccine and the decrease in COVID cases, we have been able to reintroduce group activities. Our groups started out small but are growing with consistent encouragement from staff. We have weekly entertainment scheduled in the courtyard. Religious services are being offered. Fully vaccinated family members are now able to come in to visit. It’s starting to look like old times, better times.
Masks are still being worn by all staff in resident areas. Fully vaccinated residents wear their masks while traveling to and from activities, but are able to take their masks off during the program.
How great is it to be outside now?
It’s great to be outdoors again, especially because that’s the only place we can have musical entertainment programs at this time. So, all entertainment programs are weather permitting. Residents also just enjoy sitting outdoors on nice days.
Did you start any new activities during the pandemic that will continue into the future?
Yes, we started a creative writing program. The residents create short stories as a group. We have a few stories completed. Our goal is to create a book of short stories. We also started a daily chronicle with a quote of the day, a trivia fact for the day, three moments in history that occurred on that day, and a mini-biography about a famous person born on that day.
What advice would you give to other activity directors? What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned?
As Activity Professionals, we rise to the occasion. It’s very easy to get caught up in the chaos. Step back, take a breath and do the best you can do. If you’re not sure, seek answers before you act. If you can go home at night and know in your heart you did your best, you’ve done well.