Never in my lifetime did I imagine I would be living during a world-wide pandemic. I have heard stories from our members, many of whom have lived through three wars, about epidemics they were either told about by their parents or those they actually lived through.
In my opinion, we have become a very complacent society, used to going where we want when we want and doing what we want. But that may very well change in the coming weeks/months, at least for the foreseeable future.
When will it be safe to gather in large groups/crowds of people again, attend church, watch our children/grandchildren play sports? My guess would be that this is our “new normal.” I have been asked on numerous occasions of late when the Senior Center will be re-opening. Well, I am here to tell you, that is the 69 Million Dollar question!!
Our board and I have had numerous discussions regarding this and to be quite frank, we simply don’t know, but we want to re-open as soon as is reasonably practicable. That being said, a number of crucial things will have to fall into place first. Because our county is amongst the top three counties in Tennessee with the largest number of cases and deaths, we must slowly phase back into our “new normal.” Below are some great questions and answers that should help paint a picture of just that.
Q: What considerations/guidelines will you and your board use to determine WHEN to reopen?
A: Because we serve the most vulnerable of the population – many of whom have compromised respiratory systems or are otherwise immunocompromised - we must take that into consideration when making any decision that will affect them. First and foremost, we must establish re-opening protocols. Even with the Governor’s phasing-in schedule, he has indicated that seniors should continue to shelter in place (home), for their safety and well-being. During the past week, I have had conversations with most of the Independent Living/Assisted Living/Memory Care communities in Hendersonville, Nursing Home/Rehab Facilities (all of whom are and continue to be on lock-down), City and County officials, City Fire and Police officials, as well as Federal and State officials, with the sincere hope that we are all on the same page when it comes to our senior population and their safety. Fortunately, they all concur and many actually requested that we not open anytime soon, with many applauding our proactive decision and being adamant about keeping our seniors safe and keeping this thing contained, as much as possible by staying closed a bit longer.
Q: What form of phase-in would you prefer to use, such as (and if any), by possibly limiting the hours of operation; offering a limited number of classes/activities for social distancing purposes; having folks register in advance for classes (in order to limit the number of people in the building at a time); offering outdoor activities, etc.
A: We have definitely agreed that a May 1 or even May 15 opening is simply too soon. As stated above, with the case/death number our county has had, we just don’t feel comfortable with opening the Center so soon. We discussed opening at the very earliest June 1, and that depends upon the at-that-time situation. To phase-in as stated in the question above, it would be extremely difficult and here’s why: (1) we will most likely operate on an abbreviated schedule when we first re-open, times to be determined; (2) we will most definitely be offering limited activities and that will be determined by the situation at that time; (3) with limited staff, volunteers (who are all older) and a limited number of instructors, it would be quite difficult to have prior registration and limit the number of people (I would imagine that there would be many who would not be happy with being told they could not participate upon their arrival!); (4) due to the rolling topography, outdoor activities would be very limiting for many members due to their limited mobility. As we see it, this is truly a no-win situation any way you look at it.
Q: What activities do you expect to prohibit for a while?
A: Any extraneous activity that would allow “guests” to be present (folks other than our normal attendees) such as any activity that involves the serving of food (i.e. Lunch & Learns); large crowd gatherings (i.e. the Chili Cookoff (which will be held as early as is possible), Hendersonville Health & Wellness Expo); close the room to the pool table to anyone other than staff; prohibit Wii and ping pong; cancel all Bingo activities; prohibit all puzzles, games and card games (i.e. anything that is touched repeatedly by more than one person).
Q: What extra steps do you expect to use for continued safety, such as taking temperature prior to entry; continued use of hand sanitizer; asking everyone to wash their hands and requiring masks?
A: Let me answer this by first saying that during the two weeks prior to our closing in early March, we actually required any person entering our building apply hand sanitizer BEFORE they moved past the front desk, and boy was it a very unpopular request. Some folks even commented that it was a bit much, but nobody got sick! The building will have to be sanitized daily and hand sanitizer and hand-washing will be required and strictly adhered to. That being said, remember that we have only two staff members, therefore we MUST have the help and cooperation of everyone who attends helping to sanitize the building on a daily basis.
We will continue the following: (1) to require hand sanitizer upon entry of the building, no exceptions; (2) sanitizing door handles, tables, etc., on an increased schedule; and we will institute these policies immediately: (3) requiring that members either bring their own hand weights/mats and that they sanitize them with wipes; (4) we will prohibit the bringing in of any food or open containers of snacks, which means no Lunch & Learn programs for the foreseeable future; further (5) we will also ask that as soon as your class is over you vacate the building and not congregate; (6) practicing social distancing as much as is possible (we have a small building); (7) it may come to taking temperatures prior to building entry, that is a wait-and-see; and finally, (8) depending on the situation (and the availability) at the time of re-opening we may require masks; (9) if you are sick you MUST stay away from the Center; and finally (10) if you cannot abide by these sets of protocols, you will be asked to leave immediately, no exceptions. Out of an abundance of caution, these are all common sense measures that we hope everyone will understand and help us with for the benefit of all concerned.
To let you know what we have been doing to stay in touch with our members, several weeks ago, we made videos of some of our exercise classes. They can be found on our Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/SeniorCitizensofHendersonville/.
In addition, we amassed a group of volunteers who began call to our active members (several hundred). We had college students, retired persons, staff and other volunteers helping with this. Brenda Payne added a group to be called from the Community Life Bridge organization and she and I worked together along with Fran Marcou to amass a good number of volunteers from the Rotary Club of Hendersonville (and their spouses) to make these weekly calls. She has dubbed this as the “Sunshine Calls.”
We have even had some of those making calls take things to seniors who have expressed a need. While many of our seniors have asked when we will re-open, many are planning to “stay put” for just a bit longer and for that we are grateful. For now, it’s not “business as usual,” but rather “business one-day-at-a-time.” Please don’t hesitate to reach out to us if you are in need. Be safe and God bless!!!
Julie White is the President/CEO of the Senior Citizens of Hendersonville, Inc.