Ever since its start, Windemere Nursing & Rehabilitation Center has strived to offer the highest level of care and compassion to its residents. These efforts have been successful thanks to a number of factors: a hardworking staff, an individualized approach, and bustling daily schedules. Between bowling at the Barn Bowl and Bistro and horseback riding at Misty Meadows, Windemere has always kept “boredom” out of residents’ vocabularies.
With the emergence of COVID-19, Windemere staff had no choice but to transform the center drastically. This included significant changes to the busy schedules residents were used to. “We used to have exercise with Lisa Amols. We had music every morning; we had the Garden Club. We had a million things going on,” said Betsy Burmeister, recreation director of Windemere.
Today, recreational outings have been suspended indefinitely, and daily life requires a set of foreign protocols. Residents must wear masks when leaving their individual rooms, and remain six feet apart from all other residents and staff. In order to maintain this distance, common areas have a limited capacity.
“We can only fit five people in [the Recreation Room],” Burmeister said, having just returned from Tuesday afternoon bingo. “But those are the five who really love it the most anyway, so it works out.”
Visits to Windemere have also been hindered by the pandemic. Residents’ families and close friends are able to stop by, but must adhere to certain guidelines. “They come in through the back door and we take their temperature, ask if they have any COVID symptoms, do hand hygiene, and they wear a mask,” said Burmeister. “They come into the Recreation Room, and I go get the resident, but they have to stay six feet apart.”
Burmeister considers Windemere lucky to have had no COVID cases among residents, despite a handful of staff members testing positive. “We’ve had five staff members test positive, two in December and three in January,” said Burmeister. “They’re sent home immediately, but then we’re shut down for 14 days.”
According to Burmeister, no one is allowed to visit Windemere during a 14-day quarantine. Residents are confined to their rooms, unable to gather in common areas for activities.
Despite these challenging circumstances, Windemere strives to offer residents the same high-quality care the center is known for. Old activities have been revamped to meet safety standards, and new, COVID-compliant ones have been added.
During downtime, residents are able to watch movies and speak with loved ones on the phone. “The staff can play cards with them, we visit and read to them, or do art projects with them,” said Burmeister. “We do a lot of Zoom calls with families.”
Windemere’s Music & Memory program has thrived as an activity that is both enjoyable and safe. “We give [residents] headphones and an iPod shuffle, and they have their favorite music on it,” said Burmeister. “They really like that. Music is one of the main things that can really reach people with dementia. The songs come back, and they sing along.”
Windemere has also added virtual elements to its intergenerational programs. According to Burmeister, Windemere has been working with the Chilmark School for around 15 years. Now, rather than visiting in person, the school’s second and third graders will meet residents via Zoom.
This year also brings new collaboration between Windemere and the high school. The “Adopt a Grandparent” program pairs high school students with a Windemere resident who shares their interests. “They’ll be writing back and forth and calling residents on the phone — visiting them that way,” Burmeister said. With the first letters being sent out just before Christmas, the program has already seen success. “A couple of the residents have already written back,” said Burmeister.
With spring ahead, Burmeister hopes to incorporate more outdoor activities into daily life at Windemere, many of which were possible in 2020. “When the weather was nicer, Merrily Fenner and Christine [McLean] would come and play music in the garden every week,” said Burmeister. “We’d bring out five people, six feet apart, with masks on, and they would sing.”
Residents could also enjoy outdoor time with their visitors during the warmer months. “All summer, people would visit in the garden,” said Burmeister. “Friends would bring [the residents] snacks and flowers, and things like that.” Burmeister is optimistic these small outings will return once winter rolls to a close.
Although Windemere continues to make do, Burmeister admits that handling the pandemic has been challenging for both residents and staff. “The residents don’t like it, and who could blame them? They want to go out and go for rides. They want to go back to doing things,” said Burmeister.
Burmeister called to mind just a few favorite activities among the residents at Windemere: climbing aboard the sailboat the Impossible Dream; swimming at the YMCA; enjoying musical performances from local talents such as Mark Lovewell and Rick O’Gorman.
Burmeister hopes these beloved activities will return in due time. Until then, Windemere soldiers on, thanks to the support of staff, residents, and the Island community. Burmeister recalled the holiday season, when children from schools across the Island dropped off handmade gifts for the residents. “People have dropped off cookies and cards,” said Burmeister. “People have been very, very kind, and the residents really appreciate it.”