How Masonic Village at Burlington is Helping Residents Combat Loneliness During COVID-19

During this time of social distancing with COVID-19, Masonic Village at Burlington residents in nursing care and assisted living areas may feel lonely or isolated from largely staying in their rooms and not being able to visit with their loved ones.

Recreation therapists, social workers and other staff across the village are working hard to keep residents occupied, whether it’s by connecting them to family members via video chat, reading their mail to them or just stopping by to see how they’re doing. Staff help to facilitate video chats with residents and their families to help decrease their feelings of loneliness.

“We have several residents who own electronic devices through which their family can call them,” said Tammy George, director of activities.

“We are able to broadcast to our residents in their rooms from our chapel, so since quarantine began, we’ve been providing different activities that are being shown through their televisions each day,” Tammy said. These activities include morning exercises, music therapy, trivia, virtual bingo, sing-a-longs and more. On “Fun Friday,” team members hold lip sync contests (residents vote on the winners), perform skits and play Family Feud.

“Residents really enjoy the Friday activities,” Tammy said. “We’re kind of silly, which is okay. It is fun for the residents to see people they know performing. As we start to reopen, we’ll continue to add to our regular programming.”

Staff also provide one-on-one attention to residents. On Tuesdays, Gloria Turk, music therapist, strolls from room to room with her electric piano. On Thursdays, staff distribute alcoholic beverages and snacks during “Happy Hour.” They also provide an ice cream cart for residents twice a month.

Families of residents have dropped off care packages, restaurant food, mail and cards, which team members help open and read to the residents.

“Some residents get daily newspaper subscriptions,” Tammy said. “We have a lot of supplies we give them to do in their rooms, like jigsaw puzzles. We also have DVD players and a DVD library.”

The team works together to sit down and chat with residents who may be lonely, are having a bad day or just need someone to talk to. “It’s key to have consistency with the same caregivers,” she said. “We’ve become their family.”

The Inside Scoop on COVID-19

Headlines about the effects of COVID-19 unfortunately don’t tell the whole story about what is happening on our campus at the Masonic Village at Burlington.

They don’t explain our early and consistent precautions to protect our residents and staff from contracting the virus: closing our campus to visitors, suspending non-essential services, postponing non-urgent medical appointments, stopping group activities, discouraging travel, implementing screening for staff, delivering meals to residents’ homes or rooms and making essential groceries available for residents on-campus to reduce their need to go to the grocery store.

They also don’t describe just how very contagious this virus is or the size of our campus compared to other retirement communities that are combatting it.

Here is what I witness every day:

  • An incredibly dedicated staff who care so much about our residents that they have been working around the clock with commitment, compassion and flexibility, going above and beyond to make the best of this challenging situation.
  • A team who has quickly adapted to new policies, procedures and practices to provide the best quality care and services to the residents they love.
  • Creative advocates who are finding unique ways to provide safe recreational and spiritual services and alternate ways for residents to connect with their loved ones, even while they are missing time with their own families.

I am saddened that we have residents and staff who are suffering from this virus, yet I am proud of our combined efforts to defeat it. Dr. Guda, our Medical Director, is currently living on campus and is seeing patients as frequently as needed. Our nursing team monitors our skilled nursing and assisted living residents’ vital signs on every shift and assesses them for symptoms. Any symptoms are reported to the physician or nurse practitioner, and the resident is immediately placed on isolation. Our team members are screened daily prior to entering work for fever other symptoms. We are following all procedures recommended by the CDC and maintain contact with public health officials.

Our staff are motivated knowing their work is appreciated by residents and families.

Claire & Don Simpson
Claire & Don Simpson

“We feel so safe and cared for here,” residents Claire and Don Simpson said. “In a world that is scary and threatening, we feel blessed to be in this wonderful place. We know you are taking extreme steps to keep us safe and to stay connected to us. We feel like we are in the palm of God’s hand.”

Masonic Village at Burlington has been named the Best of Burlington in several categories for many years in a row and was named to the lists of Best Nursing Homes and Best Short-term Rehab by U.S. News & World Report for 2019-2020. I believe our team continues to earn our reputation as a premier service provider during this national healthcare crisis.

Through it all, Masonic Village at Burlington remains a caring and loving place to call “home.”

Carl Tarbell is executive director of Masonic Village at Burlington.

Supporting Young Readers

Did you know that Masonic Village at Burlington has a Dyslexia Center on its campus?

For more than 20 years, the Children’s Dyslexia Centers Inc., a Scottish Rite charity, have been leaders in the effort to help children and their families overcome the painful obstacles of dyslexia, a neurological learning disability that makes it difficult for children and adults to read, write and spell.

There are more than 40 Dyslexia Centers in 13 states and five centers in New Jersey, including the Verdon R. Skipper Children’s Dyslexia Center at Burlington. The center tackles the challenge of dyslexia both by providing tutoring for children with dyslexia and by training a growing number of highly-skilled and dedicated tutors.

The center at Burlington serves children in grades 1-12 from many different educational backgrounds. On average, children admitted to the program attend for two years. The children receive one-on-one instruction twice a week after school.

“We both went through the teacher training program 20 years ago, and it’s truly life-changing, the rippling effect it has on getting the word out about dyslexia,” said Lisa Nappi, co-director of the center alongside Cheri Tartaglione.

Masons decided many years ago they wanted to support philanthropic endeavors, Cheri said. They got involved with training teachers and paired up with the Graduate Center for Dyslexia Studies at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Many of the teachers work in the classroom all day and then come to the center in the evening to tutor the children.

“Masons are making an incredible contribution to the dyslexia community, not just by tutoring children but by educating teachers,” Cheri said.

Masonic Village at Burlington resident Allan Hall volunteers at the center two nights a week, opening the doors for staff and parents.

“Because we have a locked door with a security release, Alan allows access and is there for parents to sign their children in,” Cheri said. “We enjoy seeing his smiling face.”

Dyslexia affects up to one out of every five people, boys and girls equally. Without proper intervention, dyslexia can lead to literacy, academic, social and self-esteem difficulties. While it is a treatable condition, millions of sufferers go without help due to lack of finances or access to services.

“One of the reasons that people seek out this program is because most schools don’t have the staff or the resources to provide the Orton-Gillingham method that teachers receive via Fairleigh Dickinson, Cheri said.

Orton-Gillingham is a teaching approach specifically designed to help struggling readers by explicitly teaching the connections between letters and sounds.

Parent Shannon Tucker had two children in the dyslexia program, a son and a daughter. Her daughter completed the program and her son is currently in his first year. “I think the program is wonderful,” she said. “My son’s teacher totally knew how to get on his level and make learning fun for him. I’ve seen both my son and daughter make a lot of progress and grow.”

On Feb. 23, the Verdon R. Skipper Children’s Dyslexia Center will host its major fundraiser. For more information on how to give or how to volunteer, visit www.skipperlearningcenter.org.

Providing the Best and Safest Care

Masonic Village at Burlington is proud to be a restraint and alarm-free community, as part of our mission to provide personalized, compassionate care and to promote the highest quality of life for our residents.

We do not utilize bed or chair alarms, or restraints such as vests, lap trays or bed side rails for residents at risk of falling, as they can actually be detrimental to our residents’ quality of life.

About 1,800 older adults living in long-term care facilities die each year from fall-related injuries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Years ago, there was a common misconception that restraints improved the safety of frail older adults. However, research shows restraints can be dangerous and often entail more risks than benefits.

Limiting a patient’s freedom to move around leads to muscle weakness and reduces physical function, thereby increasing the risk of falls. Many studies document the dangers of restraints and recommend more dignified methods to improve residents’ safety.

“We have two small enabler rails on the beds that people can use to grasp ahold of to pull themselves up or turn over, but we do not use full side rails or four-quarter side rails,” said Cindy Shemansky, assistant executive director/administrator at Masonic Village at Burlington. “People can seriously injure themselves when trying to get up through or around a side rail.”

The use of bed and chair alarms proliferated in the 1990s, when physical restraints were banned at nursing facilities nationwide. The alarms were intended to go off when a resident’s weight shifted, indicating they might be at risk for falling. But research shows alarms have a negative effect on the resident’s quality of life. They interrupt sleep and can cause agitation and restlessness.

“When we were using alarms, any tiny movement a person made, the alarm would go off,” Cindy said. “You have all this noise. It was annoying to the resident as the alarm would stay on until a team member responded. It also immobilized residents because they were afraid of moving as it would set off their alarm.”

Both alarms and restraints were phased out in 2016 as part of a nationwide movement in favor of more proactive, attentive care. Research today shows a reduction in falls at multiple long-term care communities that discontinued the use of the alarms. Instead, they tailored fall prevention for individuals by, for example, altering bathroom schedules, room re-arrangements and other measures, according to the CDC.

If your loved one is assessed to be at risk for falls, Masonic Village at Burlington will create an individualized plan of care with interventions aimed at helping reduce falls and injuries and provide peace of mind to residents and their families.

Volunteer Helps Residents Ease Into Technology

Steve Preissman is a jack of all trades when it comes to technology.

On any given day, you will see him at Masonic Village at Burlington, helping one resident transfer photos from their phone to their laptop and another resident establish a clearer picture on his television.

“I enjoy helping people, and I’ve always had an aptitude for technology,” Steve said. “I’m a retired software engineer by trade, and I’ve stayed (working) with computers.”

Steve has volunteered at Masonic Village since 2017. He recently hosted a “Tech Talk” about how to use your cell phone to take photos and videos. Prior to that, he ran an “Introduction to Smartphones class.”

Steve lives about 15 minutes away and typically visits three days a week for a few hours, depending on the residents’ technological needs. His only fee is a smile. “You have to have a smile or it’s not worth it [me helping],” he said.

Steve said he never gets frustrated with someone’s lack of aptitude for technology. “It’s amazing how well some of them learn,” he said, after the most recent Tech Talk, attended by more than 11 people. “One lady I’ve been working with for a couple years has gotten so much better with her phone. It feels good to see the improvement. Some people take longer than others. You just have to be patient. I plan to continue doing this for a long time to come.”

A Mason himself, Steve has been a member of Rising Sun Lodge No. 15 in Haddonfield, NJ, for more than 40 years and is a past District Deputy Grand Master.

“I love the ritual and the people,” he said. “There are so many good men in the organization and good fellowships. It’s amazing the people you meet and the help you can get and give. It’s a great fraternity.”

Tips for Downsizing

Older adults often feel overwhelmed by the downsizing process. Sometimes they are downsizing after an acute illness or injury or that of their partner. Sometimes a family member is strongly encouraging them to make the transition. Sometimes they decide the space they are in no longer suits their needs.

No matter the reason, they are making the decision to move and likely feeling a sense of loss and a lack of control, said Bari Wachs, owner of Caring Transitions of South Jersey, a company that offers relocation services such as downsizing, decluttering and estate sales, and works with facilities including the Masonic Village at Burlington.

Preparing for a new “rightsized” space – whether it’s to an independent or assisted living facility – can be an overwhelming prospect but planning for your move in advance can help lessen some of the anxiety associated with the process.”

“This can be a very stressful time,” she said. “Many are making a transition and asking other for assistance having been fiercely independent most of their lives. Often, they are focusing on the past, rather than the future. We help them focus on all of the benefits associate with the new community and how exciting this new beginning is for them.”

Mae Tilghman, a Masonic Village at Burlington resident, recently moved from her home of 60 years into a smaller space. It was difficult for her to decide what to keep and what to let go of in the moving process. But after she was all moved in, she was happy she made the decision to downsize.

“I was relieved that I no longer had to worry about leaks, replacing appliances, maintaining a lawn or any kind of maintenance on my house,” she said.

Below are some tips to make downsizing easier:

  1. Declutter – Make decisions to keep, toss or store things together. “In the sorting process, I talk with clients about what they need, what they love/want and what they can live without,” Bari said. “I always try to encourage taking items like tall bookshelves, because these provide vertical space to include more of the personal items that make a smaller space feel more like ’home.’”
  2. Donate – Share unused items with a consignment/thrift store, family or friends.
  3. Document – Take photos with you to recreate familiar spaces in the new home.
  4. Self-storage – The best route if size is an issue or security is a concern.
  5. Moving – Consider hiring professionals to ensure a faster and less stressful move.

Reasons Seniors Should Volunteer Their Time

Volunteering makes you feel good. It’s also good for your health and well-being.

This is especially true if you’re age 55 and older, according to a recent report by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency responsible for the nation’s volunteer and service efforts.

Volunteering keeps the brain active, which contributes to a person’s cognitive health and may lower the risk of dementia and other health problems in older adults. It prevents isolation and depression by engaging in enriching activities with other people outside of the home and building connections. Volunteering also promotes physical activity and fitness, which helps fend off diseases as you age, reduces stress and may even help you live longer.

Bob Bursley, a Masonic Village at Burlington resident, volunteers at the village and with Acacia Hospice. He gives communion to residents four times a month, and on certain Fridays, he prays the rosary with residents. With hospice, he visits and spends time with patients.

“One of my primary goals is to be present and to share the Psalms from the Bible with these people as they come to the end of their lives,” Bob said. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to grow in compassion for our brothers and sisters.”

Through his volunteer experiences, Bob said he has formed a deeper understanding of the beauty and fragility of life.

“I’ve become very conscious of how blessed I have been in my life and how my relocation to Masonic Village established a base for me to express my gratitude through service to others,” he said. “It deepens my faith.”

Like Bob, older adults are encouraged to find an activity they are passionate about. Volunteering is best for all parties involved when you’re doing something you enjoy. It’s never too late to start. Whether you’ve just retired or are in your later years, there is an opportunity out there for you. Seize it!

For more information on the Masonic Village Volunteer Program contact Tonya Costley-Stilts, Director of Resident Services, at 609-239-3866. For more information on Acacia Hospice Volunteers contact Danielle Verguldi at 609-589-4072.

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