COVID 19: Fact From Fiction

Wes Argabrite: Hello. This is Wes Argabrite.

Beth Argabrite: And this is Beth Argabrite. You’re listening to Aldersgate OnAir.

[Music]

Mike Peacock: Welcome back, friends, to Aldersgate OnAir. Thanks for joining me today, as we have an important topic to discuss, a topic that’s at the forefront of every news story we see or hear and in almost every conversation we have. In this 24/7 news cycle, we are flooded with dozens of updates a day about the novel coronavirus and COVID-19. Even medical professionals are looking for guidance and there’s still a lot we just don’t know. We hear so much about worldwide and countrywide statistics, but what we really want to know is how is it affecting our local communities.

We thought we’d check in with Aldersgate’s own director of health services, Brooke Hodge, for a boots on the ground perspective. Brooke stays up-to-date with all things COVID-19, with the CDC, with the Health Departments. You name it, she’s with it.

We’re also going to hear from Aldersgate’s residents Wes and Beth Argabrite about what it’s like to live in the community like Aldersgate during these times. For some levity, we’ve asked Director of Marketing and Engagement Brooks Shelley back on the show to give us a low-down on some of the cool distance socializing activities he has planned at Aldersgate. Stick around for the inside scoop on Aldersgate’s response to the biggest challenge the industry has faced in modern times.

Now, please welcome to Aldersgate OnAir, Brooke Hodge, Wes and Beth Argabrite, and Brooks Shelley. Hey, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Brooks Shelley: Happy to be here.

Brooke Hodge: Thank you so much for having us.

Mike: Yeah, of course. Just to kind of get the ball rolling, let’s get you all introduced. Brooke, tell us a little bit about yourself and what’s your role.

Brooke: Sure. My name is Brooke Hodge and I am the director of health services and the nursing home administrator for our skilled nursing building here on the Aldersgate campus. I oversee the day-to-day operations for our highest level of care here on campus.

I have been with Aldersgate for about nine years now and have served in many different roles during my time here. I started off as a staff nurse here and then became the staff development coordinator and developed education. Then became the assistant director of nursing. Then the director of nursing and then went and got my administrator’s license and am now doing that.

In every role that I’ve been in, I’ve loved it every step of the way. There is truly no better place to work than Aldersgate. We’re blessed with awesome residents, an awesome team, and there is no other place, seriously, I’d rather be than here.

Mike: Outstanding. Brooks, how about you?

Brooks: I am Brooks Shelley. I, like Brooks, am doing something I never started out doing. When I first started at Aldersgate, I was Director of Marketing and Brand Strategy, which also involved the sales department, so I get to know all the new residents coming in. But at some point, it switched over. One of our mission advancement people moved on to another role the affordable housing arena, and so I am connected in the community and outward facing as well, so the CEO that in me and I wanted to do it. She wanted me to do it, so we kind of morphed my role to marketing, branding, and community engagement.

I am always seeking community members, for years. Aldersgate is in the most diverse area of Charlotte, and we kind of apologized for where we were for a long time. But several years back, we decided, we’re going to be a good neighbor and we’re going to embrace the community as well. We want to embrace diversity because we want to be a diverse and inclusive and equitable community.

We now have communities coming out here, neighborhood associations. We have integrated after schools. We have refugee bakeries. You name it, we are ingrained in the community.

Recently, with the COVID outbreak, my role has morphed a little bit because it’s kind of hard to engage the community when you’re supposed to be at a distance.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: It has morphed a little bit into engaging our internal community and doing my best to keep all of the staff, all the team members, and all the residents engaged with each other while doing it safely and at a distance.

Mike: Awesome. We’re going to talk about that a little bit more in a few minutes. Yeah, I think we’ve got the idea of what you’re doing now.

Now, our two very special resident guests, Wes and Beth, tell us a little bit about yourselves.

Wes: You go first.

Beth: Well, we arrived at Aldersgate as new residents of the Gateway Promise about nine months ago. We’ve had time to set ourselves up, create a little haven here, and we had been so active and enjoyed so much of the community and then, all of a sudden, got our wings clipped with this COVID thing.

Mike: Oh, yeah.

Beth: Even through all of that, we have been so beautifully taken care of. Our meals are brought. Our shopping is done. If they could just do the exercises for me that I have to do every, you know—

[Laughter]

Beth: …do everything, all the while keeping our spirits way up by doing all kinds of wonderful things. I think many of us here, regardless of where we are in the Aldersgate campus, I think we feel very well cared for.

Mike: That’s awesome.

Wes: Speaking of spirits, they even make a run to the store for spirits when we need them.

[Laughter]

Wes: We want spirits.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, I love that.

Wes: I just had one question if any of you can help me. What day is it today?

[Laughter]

Beth: Groundhog Day. It’s Groundhog Day.

Brooke: It’s why we have such happy residents here.

Brooks: Exactly. It’s the 47th of April.

Wes: Correct, Brooks.

Mike: See, you get an entirely new calendar at Aldersgate just for you.

Wes: [Laughter]

Mike: Well, Brooke, we’ll talk a little bit also about, I guess, Asbury Health and Rehab and what kind of role that plays for the Charlotte, North Carolina, community at large.

Brooke: Sure. Absolutely. Asbury Health and Rehab, a little over two years ago we moved into a new location here on campus. We have been in the skilled nursing, long-term care business for many, many years. But just as we saw kind of industries change and the needs of our residents change, we did build a new skilled nursing building that we moved into a couple of years back. It’s 140,000 square feet. It is just a beautiful, beautiful building.

But that’s not all. It’s not just the bricks and sticks that make a place. We are blessed with having an amazing team that cares so richly for our elders. We provide a lot of services for our internal Aldersgate community, but also for our external community as well.

We provide skilled nursing and, with that, therapy services. We get about half of our admissions that are coming into the building are coming for skilled nursing. We serve over 750 patients and residents in the Charlotte community every year.

Mike: That’s a lot.

Brooke: Yeah, it is a lot. We provide a lot of therapy services, nursing services. We pride ourselves on the fact that we are a certified wound care center, so folks that are coming here with complex skin issues. That’s one of our specialties.

We also are SAGE certified, meaning that all of our caregivers, and this goes for the nurses, the CNAs, the dieticians, culinary, housekeeping, maintenance, social workers, everybody goes through the certification program that helps our leaders and frontline team members be able to build communities that are genuinely inclusive with the LGBTQ community. We’re always looking at what services we can bring that are going to set ourselves apart from just your traditional nursing home.

We are very fortunate that our team members never shy away from wanting to do the newest and the best. We want to be the best at everything, and so we maintain really good star ratings here. We don’t shy away from clinically complex folks that may come into our building.

To Brooks’ point, years ago, our leadership at the time had to make a decision on where we were located in the Charlotte community. Being in east Charlotte was something, in the past, that wasn’t being marketed. It was something that we were apologizing for.

We really took a step back and thought, why are we doing this? This is a community that has so much just rich history. We were going to embrace that instead of having this kind of closed wall concept of the Aldersgate community because we’re on over 230 acres of land that we’re kind of our own community in itself.

Mike: You’re your own country.

Brooke: Yeah, exactly. We did not want to continue or not really continue but have the mindset that we were not going to really build community partnerships, and so we’ve been very intentional about embracing east Charlotte and everything that it has to offer. How can we open up our walls and provide the services that we know we do well at Aldersgate to the community?

We did market studies years ago just to see what the immediate health needs were on the outside community. There was a very strong Latina population and African American population outside our walls. What were their unique health needs? How can we tackle those needs and really help kind of lessen those health disparities that we were seeing?

In building our new building that we moved into, underneath our main skill-building is, we do partner with Fresenius Dialysis because so much of the surrounding community needed dialysis, but they were also having to take multiple buses to get to the closest dialysis center. It’s those types of partnerships that we started engaging in to be able to just help the community on not just a social, economical level, but how could we also help them with their health needs because we knew that those were services that we did well? How could we start caring for the residents that weren’t the traditional residents that we cared for, for the past 65 years here at Aldersgate?

Those are kind of the things that are always on our horizon. What can we do next? What can we do better? How can we open up our services to be able to reach the broader community that is not just Caucasian, you know, rich white people that have access already to healthcare? How can we embrace the community and provide services to reach a broader network?

Mike: It sounds like you took a lot of different things into consideration and you just moved forward with just a super high energy approach to making this what it is today. Daring to be different, I guess, is really the way to put it, to make yourselves out there to say, “Hey, listen. We’re going to handle all of this stuff out there in the world, not just specialize on one or two small things.” I think that’s super epic, actually.

Brooke: Yeah, and I think that’s kind of what our strategic thinking had to be because there is, in the market today, so much of a drive to want to stay home. Home health and home care agencies are really building their core people to take care of so that people can stay home longer. If skilled nursing homes and long-term care were going to continue to stay viable in the market, you have to look at those services that you can provide that really set you apart from other places because you can look around everywhere and there are skilled nursing and assisted living that are popping up everywhere.

What is it that’s going to make someone want to choose Aldersgate? It’s looking at how we can set ourselves apart and not just set ourselves apart but how can we be the best at what we do?

Mike: Yeah.

Brooke: That’s what we’re constantly striving for across all levels of care here at Aldersgate.

Mike: Awesome. Nobody really saw, necessarily, COVID specifically coming into the landscape but there have been a lot of other things that have happened over the years. Would you say that this was something that you guys were kind of prepared for in any fashion before this hit? Did you already have protocols in place?

Brooke: Sure. I think we did on some level because we’re always having that emergency preparedness mindset. To your point, several years ago, we see flu strains that come along that kind of cause panic in the community. H1N1 was a big one several years ago. The norovirus hit the Charlotte area a couple of years back.

I don’t think that anyone, and I mean anyone kind of on a global scale, could have predicted what COVID-19 would be like. We started really preparing for it at the end of January. Beginning of February, we kind of started getting word that this looks like it was going to cause concern for the U.S., and so we started really preparing early on. The biggest piece would be the supplies that we needed to procure and that’s been a global issue, too, of not having enough personal protective equipment.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooke: We started looking. Brooks and I, our chief nursing officer, our CEO, and our materials manager started looking at where are we going to get masks if this comes into our community? Where are we going to get gowns from? The normal places that you could look didn’t have supplies. We had to start looking at really obscure places like hardware stores and things to even get things.

Mike: [Laughter]

Brooke: I know. You never would have thought that we’d be walking into an Ace Hardware Store to be able to get masks for our nurses, our CNAs, and our culinary workers to be able to wear. I think we prepare for outbreaks to happen and we have a plan in place, but to see the magnitude that COVID has affected our entire nation, I don’t think anyone could have predicted.

We’ve never had something to this degree of socially isolating ourselves and distancing ourselves. In my career, we’ve never had it to the level of restricting visitors from coming into the community.

It’s mindboggling to us. We see all the different regulations that are relapsed right now during this time that just blows your mind. The Centers for Disease Control is saying you can re-wear a mask for up to a week when, a year ago, if anyone had done that they would have shut your location down if they’d seen it.

Mike: Right.

Brooke: We’re seeing that they’re telling you, you can go over capacity for the number of patients that you’re serving. I don’t know if anyone would have seen the magnitude that this whole enemy would have caused on entire nations and, frankly, worldwide.

Mike: I understand that you also put together a presentation that kind of separates fact from fiction regarding COVID-19. Can you just really quickly walk us through what you know about that?

Brooke: Sure. Absolutely. We put together this presentation, the director of nursing and myself, a couple of weeks back just because we had residents and caregivers that were coming to us, frankly, with a lot of fear about this virus because there was and there is still so much that we just don’t know about it. We started seeing a lot of common themes that folks were coming to us about things they had heard in the media, be it on the nurse or a magazine that they had read.

Just some of the myths that we try to debunk is that folks are under the impression that the disease is airborne and that it will linger in the air for several hours. That’s not true. It’s based on droplets and it’s really being within that six feet of somebody is how you’re going to catch it and also the contact, not washing your hands. That’s the biggest thing you can do to protect yourself with COVID is washing your hands. People, it was so ingrained in their brains that I’ve got to have this specialized mask to be protected or otherwise I’m going to catch it, and really debunking that myth early on.

A lot of folks thought that it’s going to behave similar to the flu in that if we can just get into May and June where it’s going to be warmer that the virus will go away. We’re seeing that it’s in Florida. There are tons of cases in Florida. It’s warm there all the time, so that’s not necessarily true. We’re not going to see that.

Then, obviously, something that I’m passionate about, and Brooks, Aldersgate is really looking at the health disparities and kind of the myths that were going along with things related to race, age, and gender. Early on, there were myths out there that African Americans were far more likely to not catch COVID and that’s not true. That is more so because they, frankly, don’t have the same access to testing than other races do, so numbers were skewed but yet they were seeing data and thinking, “Oh, look. We’re protected,” and that not being the case.

Also, age myths that really it’s only affecting our elders. If you’re young, you may get it but it’s not going to be as bad. We’re seeing, in our local health systems here in Mecklenburg County, that the majority of folks that are in the ICU on ventilators are in that 40 to 50 age bracket. Really debunking that, gender also, that folks are thinking that it’s kind of a 50/50 and we’re seeing, again, the Charlotte market, that it’s far more men that are being affected than women, more disproportionately.

It’s really just kind of tackling those myths that are out there and just providing our residents, our team members, and our families with the right knowledge to help kind of calm those fears. Not saying that they shouldn’t be worried about things because I think we should always be vigilant about taking care of ourselves and things that we’re doing but, also, just making sure that we’re arming them with correct information.

Mike: Yeah. That’s outstanding. Wes and Beth, I guess, to bring this back to you all, how do you feel about this? Do you feel like you’ve been fairly well informed? Are you kind of staying up-to-date with everything, where you’re at right now?

Beth: Well, I wanted to say, from a resident standpoint, we felt like, with our friends that are, as I call it, the outside world now—

Mike: [Laughter]

Beth: –we thought that The Gate, as we refer to Aldersgate—

Mike: Okay.

Beth: –was very proactive and they were very quick on the scene. Many of our friends in other locations around the Charlotte area, their situations didn’t have lockdowns as quickly as we did. They didn’t seem to have a lot of the systems into place as quickly as we did. Many of them would call and we would compare notes. We were really ahead of the curve, which, yes, that made me feel even more secure in where we were and what we had chosen.

When we chose Aldersgate in the beginning, we chose it based on a bit of fact that we had 230 acres. Little did I know that, through all of this, those 230 acres might be a saving grace because, even socially distancing, we’re able to get out and walk and roam all of this beautiful campus. That’s been a big deal in a time where you’ve been locked down, so to speak.

Mike: Yeah.

Beth: To have nature as part of your daily routine.

Wes: Not only just walk and roam. There’s a three-hole golf course that was established a long time ago. I can’t say that it’s anything like Pebble Beach.

Mike: [Laughter]

Beth: (Indiscernible)

Wes: Or Augusta, but getting a group of us going out there and playing golf every couple days, we stay six feet apart, they’ve made that special. We have a beautiful lake here. Matter of fact, the villa we’re in right now is called Lakeview. We’re on the third floor. We can see the lake and a friend of ours that lives down on the lower floor recently caught a six-pound bass in there.

Mike: What?!

Wes: There is a lot of excitement here.

Beth: Including our own azalea garden.

Wes: Yeah.

Beth: Augusta doesn’t have anything over on us.

Wes: No, nothing.

[Laughter]

Wes: Tiger is not planning to play the course here. I could tell you that.

Mike: Not yet, but maybe someday.

Wes: Tiger is not coming.

Mike: [Laughter] Yeah.

Beth: Now, with a lot of the….

Brooks: We’ll change….

Beth: Mike, a lot of the information that we have been feed, we use an iPad system when you enter. When you become a resident, you’re given the iPad system that you refer to every day. It keeps you very up-to-date on all of the information and everything that the staff and the administration here is doing. It also allows us to communicate should we need to. I think the fact that they have continued to send out memos and it’s sometimes daily, it’s sometimes every other day but, yes, I do think that they kept us very well informed.

Mike: Yeah, and so how have things changed since COVID? What was your lifestyle before and what’s it like now?

Wes: [Laughter]

Beth: Well, we were both on and off-campus, of which we live in an independent area of Aldersgate.

Mike: Okay.

Beth: We had a life off-campus as well as on campus.

Wes: We’re from Charlotte, so a lot of our friends, they’re still out there.

Beth: And a lot of our activities, our theater goings, our church, even out to dinner. We shared the community here but we also shared a community outside. Well, all of that has stopped during this lockdown period.

When we came, we came as a part of this new building process that Brooke referred to. When they build the new skilled care center, they also built a new housing area, which was kind of urban in flavor and very new and very modern. When we came here, we were able to take our space and create something that we wanted because we were in on it from the beginning.

Many of the people that came about the same time we did were people that had come into what we call the Gateway Promise area, and so we had become friends with many of those. We were going to activities with many of those. We were dining with many of those when we stayed on campus, and so we had kind of our own little group of friends right here on the compound. Of course, that was really meaningful to be able to have all of that already in place when we were locked down from doing the on and off-campus deal because even though we have to stay six feet apart, we’re still able to communicate with one another.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. What’s your favorite part about being in Aldersgate? Current situation aside, if you had to just say, “Hey, I love being here because of X, Y, Z,” what would that be?

Wes: Yeah, my favorite part is right here.

Mike: Aw!

Wes: I feel a bit sorry for people that are here alone.

Mike: Yeah.

Wes: It’s difficult for them. We are really blessed to be here together. One of the reasons we moved here was to be together and to stay together.

Mike: Yeah.

Wes: I said early on; people ask us, “Well, why are you moving to there now?” I would say, well, there are only two times to make a decision like this and it would be too early and too late.

Mike: Ah!

Wes: We’re glad we made the move and we feel very comfortable being here.

Beth: Too early meant that we could do this the way we wanted it done.

Mike: Sure.

Beth: We could create a space that we created and not have somebody else in our family has to come and do it all for us. Then the too late speaks for itself because many people have to move here when they don’t have the physical capabilities to get involved like we’ve gotten involved.

I love all of the classes and the activities. I miss my friends and, of course, that’s one of the things that’s happened with this COVID thing. We all have to do our part and I understand that, but still miss all of our activities from tai chi to yoga to being in the gym to our excellent people that are there–

Wes: And culinary.

Beth: –that gives us so much to look forward to every day, and they’ve continued to do that even during this lockdown because they’ve been doing it with us and for us virtually.

Mike: Yeah, well, and you get margaritas delivered.

Beth: And you get margaritas delivered.

Wes: How did you know about that?

[Laughter]

Mike: I have my sources. I don’t want to spill the magic secrets or anything.

Wes: Yeah.

Mike: It sounds like I’m living in the wrong place. That’s all I’m saying.

Wes: No, you’re not. You’re not in the wrong place, but you could be in a better place.

Mike: Yeah, there you go. I love that. [Laughter]

Beth: A lot of people that have moved into other CCRCs (continuing care retirement centers), many of those people moved into areas that we looked at as well when we were looking for this town that we have found. Many of them, although they are lovely, they didn’t have the campus—

Wes: (Indiscernible)

Beth: –acreage that we have. Many of them are in building processes as well, as we were here, but they’re literally building out on sidewalks. Here, we have all of that acreage.

Wes: It’s a huge difference right now.

Beth: That makes such a big difference.

Wes: Huge.

Beth: Little did we know that it was going to be a difference like we’re having right now because we can get out and move and, yet, you still have that space in between that you’re not on top of one another.

Mike: Yeah. Yeah, that’s fantastic. Well, Brooks, you’ve been sitting there all nice and quiet while you’re waiting for me to get to you. I think it’s your turn now to kind of tell us some stuff about you. What do you think about what Wes and Beth are saying there? How does that make you feel to hear how they talk about Aldersgate?

Brooks: Well, as Beth and Wes mentioned, we have done several different things to engage the residents because, right now, being on lockdown and sequestered is tough to have engagement when you have to keep at least six feet from each other. Our residents have been great about actually keeping their distance and keeping themselves safe and us as well.

We’ve done several different things between balcony charades where we give out clues to each building and then have them connect with people on the balcony and the building across the way and do charades back and forth. We’ve done Margarita Mondays where staff has gone around to all the neighborhoods and all the apartments and played the ice cream man jingle and had them come out and just grab whatever ice cream they wanted.

Mike: [Laughter] That’s the Good Humor man song, right?

Brooks: That was it and it was a beautiful spring day. We couldn’t have done better with the weather if we tried, and so we threw the coolers on the golf carts, played the music through the loudspeakers, and went on through the neighborhood. It was nice to see a lot of the folks in the individual cottages who had put their lawn chairs out and were being very respectful of each other’s distance, just kind of lining the streets appropriately distanced, of course.

Mike: Sure.

Brooks: Just kind of hanging out and waiting and being good sports about the whole thing. I think the realization is that we’re all in this together even though we have to kind of keep apart right now.

Mike: Yeah. How does balcony charades work? My mind is trying to imagine it.

Brooks: It’s hysterical and there’s actually a video clip of it on our Facebook page. Two of the buildings face each other, particularly, and then there is the tower that looks out over some others. Regardless of where you are, you actually can look across and see somebody if you wanted to.

Each one of them receives sheets with different clues or different words. They would enact whatever it was that they had chosen. Then the folks on the corresponding balconies in the other buildings would try to guess what it was.

Mike: Okay. [Laughter] That’s awesome. You’ve got the balcony charades. Of course, you’ve got Margarita Monday, which I mean that just sounds epic in and of itself. Whose idea was Margarita Monday?

Brooks: It actually came from several of our team members that just wanted to get out and do something different, and so it kind of started as a, “Hey, what if we do–?” and then it morphed.

Mike: Sure.

Brooks: It became a little bit more.

Mike: Was it kind of supposed to be a one-time thing and then the popularity of it just made you say, “We have to continue this theme somehow”?

Brooks: That’s exactly what it was. It was so well received and so enjoyable for both the team members and for the residents that we decided that’s it; we’re going to have to go ahead and schedule this on out a little bit.

Mike: [Laughter]

Brooks: That’s kind of where the ice cream day came from because it was so much fun.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: Everybody has been good sports about it and we all realize that this short term pain for long-term gain.

Mike: Ha-ha.

Brooks: It just is what it is.

Mike: Now, how does this work exactly? Does somebody drive around in a golf cart dressed as a margarita fairy visiting all the residents and just waiting for people to come running out their front doors or is there some kind of an order system in place?

Brooks: [Laughter] We actually ride around the community with the golf carts and we let everyone know through our internal app, Wellzesta—

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: –what day and time, so they’ll be on the lookout. Come on out front if you want to fill your cup up. We bring the cups with us and, if you’re out there and you want one, we’ll deliver it to you. Obviously, we’re masked and gloved up.

Mike: Sure.

Brooks: Everyone just kind of hangs out. The original idea came from meal delivery because we are delivering lunches and dinners to any of the residents that order from culinary. We noticed one day that certain cul de sacs were sitting at the end of their driveway hanging out in lawn chairs but having a drink, or not, and chatting with their neighbors. It was like a cul de sac party, so they were appropriately distanced and screaming to each other and shouting across the cul de sac, having conversations. We decided, why not just make the rounds and fill them up a cup whenever we’re going through?

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: That’s kind of how it started.

Mike: It’s like a block party.

Brooks: It was. That is exactly what it was and it has continued.

Mike: Yeah. Obviously, in the wake of what’s going on, you’ve kind of had to make a whole lot of changes quickly. I know that life has kind of changed and just kind of gone down many different trajectories. That’s just kind of one example of what you guys are doing to support the residents during this time. What other cool stuff have you been doing?

Brooks: Well, we actually have done our best to engage as much of our external community as well because, right now, everyone is suffering, especially small businesses.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: We are in, arguably, the most diverse area of Charlotte, so a lot of the places that we have around here are locally owned, mom and pop places that just don’t have the depth to last through loss of income.

Mike: Sure.

Brooks: We feed our staff now each day and, instead of just using culinary on-site, we pick at least one day a week and arrange with one of our outside vendors or local restaurants or east side partners and have them cater our lunch in. That way we can make sure that whatever is brought in is sanitized and we make sure their standards are right, but it gives them some business.

It gives them some exposure and it’s also feeding our staff and giving them a break from the same old same old that they may not want that week. It’s a nice way to kind of spread as much of the attention around. We’re going to spend the money on feeding staff anyway. We may as well make it benefit some of the small businesses that need it right now.

Mike: Yeah, and I love that idea because, really, no matter where the food is coming from, it’s going to come from somewhere else.

Brooks: Correct.

Mike: Why not control that somewhere else and kind of spice it up, give some variety, support the economy, make everybody feel like they’re not going to have the same stuff over and over again? It really is actually a brilliant concept. Well done.

Brooks: Well, thank you. We have our local fire department, which is literally right around the corner. They get, that one fire station gets more calls in a year than any other one in the county, but they always respond to us.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: Geographically, that’s going to be them. Each year, we try to take them some lunch, some dinner, something, and it’s typically around the holidays. This past year, when we talked to them, they said, “We really appreciate it but we just get inundated at the holidays, which is a great thing, but if you want to do it another time of the year, it’s appreciated then as well.” We kind of pushed it off and decided to do it during the first or second quarter of the year.

Now was the perfect time. We contacted one of our local immigrant-owned – he’s actually a Latin baker, but he also has a catering sidearm. Today, tomorrow, and the next day, so that we get all of the shifts of the fire department, we’re delivering meals to them from one of our local immigrant restaurants just as a nice thank you. Our senior staff can go, our culinary staff can go, and housekeeping, nurses, and CNAs, whoever wants to go over and help present the meal and say thank you. It’s a great connection between our team members, the community, and our civil workers.

Mike: Oh, that’s awesome. I love that. I also heard that you guys are doing a Morse code game at night. Is that true?

Brooks: We are and it’s gone over gangbusters.

[Laughter]

Brooks: We’ve got some small, disposable flashlights and distributed them to everyone, and we gave Morse code sheets so that everyone can have their sheet to figure out exactly what they are saying and what hopefully someone else is saying back to them. That way they can at least, if they have a balcony or not, wherever they are, the sun goes down, you can start sending Morse code signals and maybe learn something a little bit new when you’re doing it.

Actually, tomorrow night, we’re not doing Morse code tomorrow night. Tomorrow night is Earth Day, so we got luminaries with beanbags to weight them down and the little plastic candles to go in them.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: Distributed them to all of the residents so, in celebration of Earth Day, we’re going to have luminaries lit up in all of the windows. Then the beanbags that are used to weight down the luminaries, on Friday, so that they can return the beanbags, we’re going around with the golf cart and holding out hula-hoops. They get to throw the beanbags to try to make the hoop and see if they can actually make the shot. It’s a lot of fun.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: Again, our residents, they’re such good sports about it and they really just want to be connected in one way, shape, or form.

Mike: Well, Wes and Beth have, of course, been very complimentary about your place and the roles that all you guys play. All I can think of is that the way that you approach everybody, it really seems more that these aren’t residents. These are friends and family. You’re doing so much out of the box thinking to keep them engaged. I think you guys are really kind of going above and beyond just what’s required. You’re really trying to make this what you would do if you were at home with your family.

Brooks: Well, that’s pretty much the way we’re looking at it too because we’re with each other all day long. In my role, most of the folks that have come in within the past three years have come through the marketing department, so I got to know them.

I know their children. I know their dogs. I know all the dogs’ names. Yeah, I’ll drop off Milk-Bones every once in a while just to give the dogs a little treat because if I were sequestered or my parent was sequestered, I’d like to think that somebody else would do the same for my mom.

Mike: Yeah.

Brooks: That’s what it all comes back to.

Mike: It sounds like you guys are dealing with everything just the best that you possibly can and the response you’re getting is awesome. Everybody is treating this as we’re just going to get through the days and do our best. It sounds like you, the residents, the staff, and everybody is on the same page at this point.

Brooks: We are and it is a different world. We are all trying to figure out what the next step is. We’re very fortunate to have some highly competent clinical staff that have looked at all the scenarios. We’re constantly on CDC calls and we’ve got everything mapped out in the board room where everyone sits appropriately distanced.

Mike: [Laughter]

Brooks: But we are planning out if this happens, then we go to this next level, and that next level entails X, Y, and Z.

Mike: Sure.

Brooks: We’ve got as much planned as humanly possible because, at some point in time, something is going to come up that you didn’t plan for.

Mike: Right.

Brooks: Best to go ahead and have what you can while you can.

Mike: Absolutely.

Brooks: This is something that we as a group will get through and, whatever changes that have to come in the future, we’ll do it together.

Mike: Yeah, absolutely. We will all do this together, for sure. Brooke, what is your best advice for older adults living in Charlotte or anywhere regarding their health and COVID-19?

Brooke: I really just think, for everyone, really, but particularly with our older adults, that it’s just to stay home, really following the advice of our government just to continue to stay home. Even when restrictions are going to be lifted state-by-state, to really just be cautious when you’re going back out into the world. For now, it’s really just to stay home. That’s our best defense at this time to just lessen the likelihood of any type of exposure. It’s going to lower your risk in staying home.

You can’t control what other people are doing but, by staying home, you can control your bubble. I think, at this time, that is just the safest thing that folks can do. I can’t stress enough for people and this is going to be even after COVID is gone. We’ve laughed about how it takes something like COVID for us to put a focus on washing your hands. [Laughter]

Mike: Right.

Brooke: Washing your hands is something that, yeah, was one of our “yikes” moments for the world when we’re like, “Do we really have to remind people to wash their hands?” That’s something that we should continue to do, 20 seconds of good handwashing, keeping antibacterial gel with you for when you are going out. But, to be honest, our elders need to do things and stay in their homes and not up their likelihood of getting the virus by going back out because even though we may open things back up, it does not mean that it’s going to be safe and that your risk is going to be gone at that time.

I think that that is just a huge component of it at this time is to stay home and that our elders here at Aldersgate have been staying on campus. That’s what our mandate has been for folks. It’s really served us well in lessoning that likelihood of exposure for folks.

Worldwide, I think we’ve put such a huge focus on the clinical piece of this virus and what can we do so that we don’t catch it. With that has been staying home. Staying home, though, and not being around our social networks can really make people from a mental and psychosocial standpoint feel very isolated. I think that folks need to not only worry about their clinical well-being but also their mental well-being as well.

The best advice I can give towards that is embracing technology during this time. With the government recommending us to stay in our homes and not being around family, not being around friends, which churches closed and stores being closed, we’re not around our network of folks that we’re accustomed to. Doing that can really lead to people feeling very isolated from the world.

Technology can be someone’s best friend right now. I know it’s hard for this generation to willingly want to embrace Facetime, Zoom Meetings, and things of that nature, but I really think that embracing that and being open to learning can really open up a whole world of being able to connect with our kids and our grandkids and our church group. I think that folks need to make sure that they’re not just focusing on what they can do to protect themselves from a medical standpoint but also paying very close attention to their mental health needs as well because that’s really, really important.

Keep moving is what I tell folks too. Being in the home, it’s easy to lose function. There is nothing wrong with walking outside. We see our elders right now; we see them outside walking around the lake and really enjoying that time outside. I think that’s a big piece of it too is, don’t lose that physical function just because you may be stuck indoors more so than usual.

Mike: Now, I guess, the last question I have for you is, if a prospective resident wanted to move in now, say, to independent living, assisted living, or memory care, what does that process look like? What is onboarding looking like right now?

Brooke: Yeah, sure. Obviously, we are still taking admissions into Aldersgate, really with all levels of care because we still want to serve the community and their needs. We’re being extremely cautious in our screening of potential folks that are coming in that we’re not introducing COVID into the community.

For our independent living folks, they are really working with our marketing team. Someone who had interest in moving into Aldersgate would reach out to our marketing for independent living and they would walk you through what the steps would look like to be able to move into Aldersgate.

It’s a little different right now. Typically, someone could come onto campus and have a wonderful tour of all of our levels of care. But with that not being an option at this point, we’re doing virtual tours, so having that ability to see our campus through technology and having our marketing team kind of walk you through the different services that we provide.

If someone does want to move in and put down a deposit for here, there are some things such as a medical screen that our nurses look at to make sure someone is appropriate for that independent-living level of care. Then they really work with our move-in coordinator to get that arranged. It’s a pretty seamless process that really our marketing team does an awesome job with walking people through each step and really orienting them along the way.

As far as our assisted living and our memory care, we typically do stay full in those areas of campus. There typically is a waiting list for that but you can always reach out to our assisted living social worker and she can put you down as an interested and answer questions for what that move-in process would look like if there is availability. It also involves really reviewing someone’s medicals, making sure they’re appropriate for that assisted living level of care, and then talking about the different options of accommodations in assisted living.

It looks very similar for memory care as well, typically a waiting list for that as well and just talking with our social worker who oversees our assisted living. She oversees our assisted living and memory care, and so she can walk folks through what the waiting list process looks like. If there is availability at that time, also referring medicals and making sure that someone who is moving into memory care, that they are appropriate for that level of care and you have a diagnosis of dementia and that their care needs can be met at that point.

That’s really kind of what the process looks like. Really, with COVID, the only thing that’s been kind of the biggest change is aggressively screening folks prior to coming into the community and then just not being able to physically come onsite to see things prior to move-in, which can be a challenge because people want to see things. Our admissions team, our social workers, our marketing team do a great job of really guiding people along the way so that all their questions get answered.

Mike: Outstanding. Are there any processes that you’ve introduced now during this timeframe that you’re going to keep when everything gets back to “normal”?

Brooke: Sure. I think that this time has really given us a lot of time to reflect on what we needed to change. I think the biggest takeaway that we’ve all found from this, which has just been, to me, the silver lining in this from COVID is seeing folks taking a step—this is our employees—taking a step back from their day-to-day jobs and really everybody has been all hands on deck in regards to helping to engage the residents. They’ve gotten to spend so much more quality time with our residents and that’s partly due to families aren’t here to provide that continuous companionship for a lot of them.

When they’re here spending time, we like to be respectful and we may not be in there with them. With the families not being here, it has given us the opportunity to really engage and spend quality time. This is not just our life enrichment department, but it has been really seeing our nurses, our CNAs, our housekeeping, our culinary, maintenance, and social workers that have been able to sit and have dinner with someone—six feet away—really embracing and getting to know folks. We’ve gotten so many great pictures.

We have had conversations of, when this is all over and we go back to whatever normal life is going to look like at this point, can we please hold onto that mindset that it’s okay for that CNA to sit down for 30 minutes with that resident and eat lunch or read a book to someone. That may not be what their day-to-day has looked like in the past. It’s what it looks like now and how can we continue that because that’s been the most endearing piece to see with our team members building those closer – we’ve always had great relationships with the residents, but seeing these closer relationships being built amongst people that we’re taking care of has been the one process that I think that I would love to see continue.

I hope that it does continue, that we don’t get thrown back into the rush of day-to-day when there are so many other things that we can be doing when the world opens back up. That we really do hold onto this mindset of slowing down, spending time with our residents and our loved ones, and really embracing that uninterrupted time.

[Music]

Mike: Well, this has been a super fun conversation. Every one of you has been a fantastic guest. It’s been an honor to chat with you all here today. Does anybody have any closing comments before we let you get back to your day?

Wes: Yes. What is today? [Laughter]

Mike: I believe Brooks clarified that it was the 47th of Julytember.

Wes: Thank you.

[Laughter]

Mike: Awesome.

Wes: Good to know. Good to know.

Brooks: [Laughter]

Mike: Thank you guys so much. This has been a blast.

Wes: Thank you, Mike.

Brooke: Thank you so much. We’ve enjoyed being on here today.

Wes: Us too.

Mike: I sincerely hope that all of you have enjoyed hanging out with us so far and that you’ll continue to do so as we explore even more awesomeness as the show progresses. I really want to give another shoutout to Brooke, to Brooks, and the entire team at Aldersgate for taking the time to give us some insight into what the administration is doing to not just make life more manageable but to really go above and beyond to make sure that people don’t forget you can still live your life and, dare I say, have a little fun. Truly remarkable.

Thanks to Beth and Wes Argabrite for being champs and agreeing to be our first resident guests. Truly an honor chatting with you both. Y’all are a hoot.

Don’t worry. We have plenty more conversations planned with both Aldersgate residents and staff, so make sure you stay tuned by downloading that Podbean app on your iPads and subscribing to the show. You’ll get a notification when new episodes become available.

Don’t forget, also, we need your feedback. Send us an email to [email protected] with your comments and ideas. Our supernatural team of radio ninjas will work their magic to integrate those into the program. Thanks again for joining us and we’ll talk to you in on Aldersgate OnAir.

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