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Assisted Living Staff Help Residents Face COVID-19

Willow Brook Christian Village activities director

Do you wonder how assisted living residents are faring during COVID-19? And what are staff in senior living communities doing to ease residents’ burdens?

Connie McNeal, activities director at Willow Brook Christian Village in Delaware, Ohio, knows all about the daily challenges faced by her residents, about their fears and losses and about their longings for connection and comfort. 

In this heartfelt essay, McNeal takes us inside her community, which like so many senior living communities, has been forced to implement safety restrictions that have changed people’s lives. 

The Face in the Mirror by Connie McNeal

I don’t recognize me!

A resident said that to me one afternoon when I asked if she’d like to FaceTime with her family. It was one of many invitations to help her connect with her family, during the early days of our COVID-19 tuck-in. 

And as usual, she declined.

  This time I sat on the floor in front of her and let my body language tell her that I wanted to give her time … time to share her thoughts .Then I asked her why she didn’t want to connect with those she loves most. 

She said she wanted desperately to see her family, even if it must be through technology. But as tears filled her eyes, she told me how embarrassed she was being seen by others: by the staff, her resident friends, “even those who don’t like me!” 

As she laughed at her own joke, the tears remained. “When I look in the mirror, I don’t recognize me!” she said.

Muffling Masks and COVID Hairdos

So I asked: What has changed, and how can I help? It took only moments for her to share what was deepest on her heart.

The mask!  She said she didn’t mind wearing it. She fully understood its purpose and importance. But it muffled the voices of those around her and made her feel distant.

 And her hair! The weekly salon visit was not only an enjoyable social event, but it maintained her appearance in a way that kept her confidence anchored.

As she shared, there were many one-line jokes about the “wild hair” above the strange mask. We laughed!  I left! But I knew in that moment that our activities game plan was not just finding a way to play bingo with disposable equipment.

Recognizing Oneself Again

Our team needed to help these residents recognize themselves again.

Our staff had already begun sharing their hidden talents. Who knew that some of our nurses were hair stylists in earlier years? Or that many were willing to come in on their free time to provide nail care?

  Our portable sound system, donated the previous year for activities use, was placed in a rolling cart. Yes, it makes all of our activity programs LOUD! But it enables all to hear those who are speaking, overriding the muffling impact of our masks.

  “Staff-swapping” has become a regular weekly plan, as staff members step up to share their talents.  We feel less trapped by  virus safety restrictions, and actually enjoy finding ways to “up our game.”

  It’s working! We have a long way to go. And I’m guessing we will have lots of time to try new ideas. But our residents are enjoying safe family visits. Laughter is with us daily. Folks seem to be recognizing themselves once again.


McNeal wrote this essay over the summer. Since then, some restrictions have eased (the beauty parlor has reopened).  Residents and families can schedule visits. Activities like Bible study, music and crafts are unfolding. But everyone is looking forward to the day when masks disappear, when families can visit all day long, and when residents are wrapped in endless hugs.

Contact us here to learn more about Willow Brook.

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