“It was a little more than one year ago that we did the unthinkable – Pine Run closed its doors to visitation in the Health Center, the Garden Memory Care and Lakeview Personal Care in response to the evolving COVID 19 pandemic,” said Maria Santangelo, Pine Run Executive Director. “We had never taken such a drastic step in our 45 year history. As senior care providers, we know that our residents thrive when families and visitors are with their loved ones. But as the pandemic was sweeping the country last March, we had to act fast to protect our most vulnerable residents, even if it meant separating families, spouses, partners, and friends.”
Because older people and those with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk of severe disease from COVID-19, stringent efforts have been needed to combat the spread of the pandemic. Now, however, widespread vaccination of older adults and health care providers is enabling families to reunite once again.
Residents and staff of personal care homes and skilled nursing residences were among the first priority group in Pennsylvania to be vaccinated as COVID-19 shots rolled out in January 2021. Pine Run Retirement Community now has offered the vaccine to all residents and staff across its entire continuum of care – from the personal care residence, Pine Run Lakeview, in Doylestown Borough, to the short-term skilled nursing care at the Pine Run Health Center and its specialized secure memory care neighborhood, The Garden, on the 43-acre campus of Pine Run Retirement Community on Ferry Road in Doylestown.
Widespread vaccination has allowed family members to visit their loved ones again, making a real difference in the lives of families like Kay Smith and her daughter, Kate.
Kay Smith moved to Pine Run Lakeview in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. By then, personal care homes and skilled nursing residences had shut their doors to nearly all visitors in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. Like other similar care providers, Pine Run Lakeview had eliminated in-person indoor visitation of its residents, suspended group activities including communal dining, and required PPE for staff members.
Those early days were challenging, Kate Smith recalled, and the end-of-year holidays were among the worst.
“It was the first time my mother and I had been away from each other during the holidays in my entire life,” said Kate, who recently moved to Lumberville, in upper Bucks County. “I recognized right away that she was in good hands, but not being able to hug her and not having visual cues and be face-to-face was very hard.”
When the weather allowed, the Smiths were able to spend time together on Lakeview’s comfortable porch and in the spacious conference room, where they could socially distance and wear masks. They stayed connected through their phones, too. Then, after the vaccine had been widely distributed, they got the news that visiting restrictions could be loosened.
“That has made a dramatic improvement in our lives,” said Kate, who now can call and make an appointment to see her mother in person, in her room. While masks still need to be worn, the more intimate setting is “wonderful for us both,” Kate added.
Both mom and daughter are delighted to have Lakeview for Kay’s new home. “She tells me how lovely everyone is, what an effort they make to decorate for every holiday, and that the food is fantastic,” said Kate. “She’s making new friends with shared interest and similar life trajectories. Her room is a beautiful space and has a nice homey feeling. This era could be one of the best of her life.”
The Frost family, of New Britain Township, also has been able to reconnect with family matriarch, Beverly, who has lived at Pine Run’s specialized memory care neighborhood, The Garden, since February 2020.
The Frosts first took Beverly to The Garden for a few weeks, to allow husband Armin a respite. Soon after, they realized The Garden would be the best home for Beverly, whose dementia was such that she needed more care than Armin could provide on his own. Armin and the couple’s children, Justin and Tammy, chose The Garden for many reasons, including its highly trained care providers and the fact that Pine Run is part of the Doylestown Health network, a factor that also influenced Kate and Kay Smith.
The following month, COVID-19 took hold in Pennsylvania. The Frost family, which previously had spent time with Beverly every day, had to be satisfied with video visits. As the weather improved, Pine Run staff installed thick plastic dividers outdoors, allowing Beverly and other residents to see family members briefly, while safely ensconced behind a protective barrier.
Although hard on everyone, Justin said, the safety measures were much appreciated. And now, as most of the safety protocols have eased, Armin has resumed his near-daily visits with his beloved wife of 63 years, and brings her freshly made cookies.
Both Armin and Justin said The Garden has proven to be an excellent choice for Beverly.
“They’ve made her feel at home,” said Justin. “She has never asked to come home, which is very comforting and she doesn’t feel abandoned, which is also a huge relief.”
“It has exceeded my expectations,” Armin said.
COVID-19 also interrupted the daily visits of Maryanne Mahoney and her husband, Tom. Maryanne had been visiting Tom at Pine Run’s Health Center six or seven days a week for four years. Tom had moved to the Health Center from Lakeview as his Parkinson’s progressed.
“He can’t really speak, but his mind is there,” said Maryanne, adding that her presence seemed to bring Tom comfort. “He would see me and listen to me. We’d watch old TV shows, and I would babble on.”
When the pandemic hit, Maryanne could no longer visit Tom in his room. They tried talking on the phone, but communication was challenging because of Tom’s difficulty speaking.
Maryanne wanted to continue washing Tom’s laundry at home. When she would come to Pine Run, she would let Tom’s aide know that she was coming. The aide “was kind enough to bring the laundry to me in the lobby” of the Health Center. Then Maryanne would drive around the building to a window. Back inside, Tom’s aide would push him to the window, and Maryanne would get out of her car and wave to her husband in the window.
“I’d stay 10 or 15 minutes, until I got too cold,” Maryanne said. “That was a hard five or six weeks.”
In late April of 2020, Tom had to be hospitalized for a short time. When he returned to Pine Run, the staff and Maryanne discussed placing him in the Health Center’s hospice program. “That was a crushing blow to me at first,” Maryanne said, but after discussing it with Tom, they both decided it was for the best.
In hospice, Maryanne could resume visiting Tom in person in his room, with masks on, and Tom rallied. Throughout the spring, summer and fall, Maryanne would take Tom outside and “follow the sun,” pushing him in his wheelchair, and he would nap.
Throughout the pandemic, Pine Run’s staff providers got creative in their efforts to keep families connected while they had to remain physically apart. The widespread dissemination of the COVID-19 vaccine now is making that task much easier.
“We are so thankful that the administration of the vaccine allows our residents to safely reconnect in person with their loved ones. While we continue to wear masks in our health care settings to protect our residents and families, we are committed to doing everything possible to keep families together,” said Maria Santangelo, Pine Run’s executive director. “While the pandemic has presented historic challenges, our number one priority continues to be the safety and wellness of each one of our residents.”
About Pine Run
Pine Run Retirement Community is a vibrant senior living and continuous care retirement community in the heart of Central Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Located in Doylestown, an hour north of Philadelphia, its beautiful 43-acre campus encompasses historic farmhouses, walking paths, a pond, and nearby Pine Run Creek. A continuum of care at every level is offered at its personal care setting, Pine Run Lakeview, supportive rehabilitation and long-term care at the five-star rated Pine Run Health Center, and specialized memory care at The Garden at Pine Run.