'I'd rather take grievances than offer my condolences': Area senior centers closing down again amidst second wave of coronavirus cases

Published on Thursday, 19 November 2020 15:49
Written by Erica Drzewiecki


After Connecticut senior centers were cleared to cautiously reopen this fall, the dreaded second wave of covid-19 hit, forcing the most vulnerable to retreat and hunker down again.

The doors to most senior facilities have opened on an as-needed basis, with limited services and programs.

“Seniors are feeling frustrated because of the uptick in cases and they’re dying to get back to the center and all our programs and activities,” Berlin Senior Center Director Tina Doyle said.

Encouraging people to stay safe and stay home, she added, “I’d rather take grievances than offer my condolences.”

Berlin’s facility reopened Oct. 19 for one-on-one appointments for library browsing, foot care, blood pressure screenings and social services. Virtual yoga and relaxation classes have had a few regular participants.

Doyle is now in her 36th week of robo-calls to members, sharing updates and town happenings. Staff also checks in with high-risk members more often and a “birthday brigade” mails out cards ahead of people’s special day.

New Britain Senior Center created a weekly calendar with a schedule of in-person classes along with each’s capacity, room location and designated entrance. The Pearl Street facility is open but lingering is still discouraged.

Each class has its own entrance, with capacity limited by room space and attendees’ ability to distance themselves from each other. Bingo, held on Mondays in the cafeteria, is limited to 20 people, for example. Director Red Cone called the numbers Monday to a small crowd of attendees.

Since it’s so popular, New Britain’s Fitness with Chris is now being offered in three separate sessions Monday and Tuesday mornings with a limit of 10 participants per session. Congregate lunched remain grab-and-go only, with pre-packaged meals ready to pick-up three times per week.

Meanwhile, staff at the Bristol Senior Center has enjoyed seeing members at drive-through events, including several flu clinics and a to-go Grandparents Day meal.

“We’re holding off on recreational activities in light of the increase in covid cases in Bristol,” Director Patty Tomascak told the Press. “We’re working closely with the Bristol-Burlington Health District to follow recommendations and plan the future reopening of the facility when it’s safe.”

A weekly update is sent out and staff makes personal calls to folks who need that extra attention.

Library browsing and computer lab access is now available in one-hour time slots by reservation only. A Covid-19 Assessment Form must be completed by any visitors beforehand, with walk-ins prohibited. A new program starting up this fall is Healthy Minds, Healthy Lives. Bristol members can make an appointment for one of three weekly sessions, an opportunity to socialize with friends and visit with staff.

The Southington Calendar House reopened late September on reduced hours to allow for cleaning in between visits.

“We have been gradually adding back activities and are seeing an increase in participation,” Calendar House Director Robert Verderame reported in his November newsletter. “It’s wonderful to see people in the building again and I am very happy to say that so far everyone has been sticking to the rules, especially with wearing masks.”

The cardio room is open by appointment only and members can meet in the lobby to sit and chat as long as they call ahead. Group activities that used to draw large crowds such as bingo and live entertainment are still on hold.

“We hope as time goes on we will be able to reintroduce larger social activities so everyone can gather and have fun,” Verderame said.

Now entering the eighth month of the pandemic, staff at the Newington Senior & Disabled Center are constantly reevaluating and making adjustments to serve their community in the safest and best way possible.

“Over the summer as things were looking like they were stabilizing, we were planning on doing more one-on-one services on site, then numbers started going up again,” Director Dianne Stone said. “So we started to focus our resources to reach more people outside the building.”

The team is working to fulfill more seniors’ basic needs like meals and transportation. A volunteer-run grocery shopping program has been very successful. Grab-and-go lunches are provided by pickup or delivery on a weekly basis.

“The big concern with people not coming into the center is making sure they are staying active and socially engaged,” Stone pointed out.

In that light, virtual programs keep members busy on Zoom, by telephone and computer. And holiday celebrations have not halted, with a drive-through Halloween party at the end of October and a drive-through Thanksgiving treat now in the works. Newington’s Dial-a-Ride bus was even transformed into an ice cream truck to make home deliveries.

“The message we’re really trying to get out to people is that older adults are still at high risk,” Stone said. “It’s not the time to take your foot off the gas. We want people to stay vigilant and stay safe and at the same time, know we’re there for them.”

Plainville Senior Center reopened Nov. 5 with limited activities. Monday’s Zumba class had six attendees and at least 10 people have signed up for the first in-person bingo event this Wednesday. Support groups for caregivers and grandparents raising grandchildren have also resumed.

“So far, so good,” Assistant Director Ronda Guberman told the Herald. “People have to pre-register for every activity they want to participate in. They are being very cautious, but hopefully as they start learning we are open they will come when they feel comfortable.”

The first-ever State-Wide Senior Center Virtual Holiday Bash is set for Dec. 18 from 1-2:30 p.m., featuring greetings from around the state, seasonal music, ballroom dancing, holiday vignettes and more. Register at https://cthealthyliving.org/events/statewide-senior-center-holiday-bash/

Erica Drzewiecki can be reached at edrzewiecki@centralctcommunications.com.

Posted in The Bristol Press, Bristol on Thursday, 19 November 2020 15:49. Updated: Thursday, 19 November 2020 15:52.