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As a new strain of coronavirus (COVID-19) swept through the world in 2020, preparedness plans, masking policies and more public policy changed just as quickly. WVXU has covered the pandemic's impact on the Tri-State from the very beginning, when on March 3, 2020, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine barred spectators from attending the Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus over concerns about the virus, even though Ohio had yet to confirm a single case of COVID-19.

Elderly Residents 'Getting Pie With A Little Help From Their Friends' This Thanksgiving

thanksgiving pie
Element5 Digital

For most local nursing home facilities, Thanksgiving is the busiest time of year. Family and friends often join elderly residents for meals and visits.

"Typically, from Halloween through New Year's, it seems like a big party on our campus on every level of care," says Megan Ulrich, vice president of marketing and business development at Maple Knoll Communities. "Obviously, again, this year's not going to be that way." 

COVID-19 has ravaged elderly communities where people are more vulnerable to fatal complications caused by the virus. In Ohio, more than5,500 people over the age of 60have died from the virus and more cases are still pending. That's more than all the other age groups combined.

Health precautions put in place in March have ended in-person visitation at nursing homes for all but independent living facilities, in most cases.

"So we're trying to be creative and use technology to see how we can really make things still fun and festive for the residents," Ulrich says. "We're trying to continue to build morale." 

For the more than 3,500 residents being served by Maple Knoll Communities in the greater Cincinnati area, that means making sure Thanksgiving meals and socially distanced activities still happen. For instance, Ulrich says a plan called, "I'll get pie with a little help from my friends," allows family members to drop desserts off on Thanksgiving morning. Online calls and window visits are also being encouraged.

It's the same kind of energy being poured into gatherings at the Marjorie P. Lee Retirement Community and Deupree House.

Laura Lamb, president and CEO of Episcopal Retirement Services says, "We also are going to host in all our communities hundreds of window visits or Zoom calls, so we are helping our residents to facilitate having meaningful conversations with their loved ones."

Lamb and Ulrich say most residents understand the reason for the precautions and are finding ways to connect with other residents in small pods or through community activities. But it's not always seamless to adjust to the COVID-19 restrictions.

Ann Roller is the executive director at Ohio Living Llanfair where about 200 residents reside. She says staff answers questions from family members standing outside the facility nearly every day.

"I think that's just one of the hardest things —  that people just aren't able to see Mom in some of the levels of care — Mom or Dad — and that's very, very difficult for them," she says.

But it's the priority, they all say, to follow CDC guidelines and keep residents safe from the deadly virus. 

Local nursing homes are accepting letters and cards from the public to add cheer to retirement facilities during the holidays. Letters and cards can be addressed to individual facilities and will be distributed to residents.

Jolene Almendarez is the granddaughter of Mexican immigrants who came to San Antonio in the 1960s. She was raised in a military family and has always called the city home. She studied journalism at San Antonio College and earned a bachelor's degree in Journalism and Public Communications from the University of Alaska Anchorage. She's been a reporter in San Antonio and Castroville, Texas, and in Syracuse and Ithaca, New York.