As Colorado Springs scrambles to prevent further spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of the city’s senior care centers are having to adjust to a new way of life in isolation.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seniors are among the most vulnerable to serious health complications from COVID-19 — those 65 and older currently account for about 80 percent of recorded deaths from the virus in the United States. 

Ian Chartier, executive director for Bear Creek Senior Living, said the biggest impacts his facility has seen so far have been adjustments to residents’ day-to-day lives, as social distancing guidelines have necessitated new regulations.

“We are restricting all visitation to our community at this point in time, so family and loved ones aren’t able to visit … unless there’s like, an end-of-life situation,” Chartier said.

“Really at this point … only employees and medically necessary vendors are allowed in the building. That’s unsettling for residents and their families, for the most part. But pretty much everybody’s been understanding.”

Since visitors can’t enter the facility, Chartier said Bear Creek Senior Living has been adding ways for residents to connect with their loved ones electronically.

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“I would say our seniors are not always the greatest with those kinds of technology, but our staff have iPads and we’re trying to … accommodate it,” he said. “We do have computers, so one of the first things we did was load Skype onto that for people who want to use it.”

Because there’s a high risk of spread in any facility where people live close together — there have been five outbreaks at Colorado residential and non-hospital health care facilities, and six cases of COVID-19 were identified in the Laurel Manor Care Center in El Paso County last week — many other senior centers also have had to restrict activities.

Chartier said Bear Creek Senior Living, which has 116 residents, has had to eliminate group activities and socialization and even suspend communal dining, opting to send food trays to residents’ rooms.

At Colorado Springs Senior Homes — a facility with four houses, each with around 10 residents — group activities have been limited to individual houses but not canceled entirely, according to Administrator Mandi Murdock.

“Our residents, because ours are high-functioning — they get kind of bored. So it’s been hard finding activities and stuff and just convincing them that we’re trying to protect them,” Murdock said.

The biggest problem that Colorado Springs Senior Homes has encountered thus far, Murdock said, has been acquiring food for its residents.

Because the organization doesn’t use corporate food distributors and usually has employees go out and purchase food for residents as needed, the public’s panic buying and hoarding of goods as a result of COVID-19 has made things difficult.

“We are getting the food, but it’s harder,” Murdock said. “We used to be able a shop once a week to feed all 40 of our residents, whereas now we’re having to go to multiple stores to get everything.

“And then some places, for instance … only allow five dozen eggs at a time, per day. So that’s really hitting us. We’ve tried talking to managers and they just tell me everybody else is asking for it too. So I try to explain that we’re unique, because I have 40 at-risk residents that are quarantined and can’t go out and shop for themselves right now. But they just are not very helpful. That’s probably our biggest struggle.”

Neither Colorado Springs Senior Homes nor Bear Creek Senior Living has had to reduce staff, cut hours, or reduce employee pay because of COVID-19.

“At this point we’re really just trying to repurpose staff,” Chartier said. “For example, the activities staff, they’re normally doing activities, but they can’t do that now. So they’re helping with taking orders for the menus and delivering the room trays and supporting the dining staff. It’s really kind of more just adjustment of duties … versus any layoffs or anything like that.”

Chartier said although the current employee configuration should work for the foreseeable future, adjusting staff duties might not be workable in the long term.

At Colorado Springs Senior Homes, Murdock said they’re currently “right where we need to be” on staffing, but even one employee getting sick and needing to take leave could put the facility in a “tough spot.”

“I have to have people,” Murdock said. “I have to have staff on the floor. 

“So if I get one or two people out, it could be a big problem.”

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