When news reports about the COVID-19 pandemic began circulating in Alberta last spring, Connie Fewster was relieved to have had her parents Niki and Van Chiftis settled in at Origin at Spring Creek less than a year earlier.
“My parents lived in Banff for sixty-five years and at this time in Banff there is no long-term care facility available for people who are active and relatively healthy, but who also want a bit of independent care,” says Connie, who lives in Calgary.
“It became very clear to me early on in the pandemic that Origin was the best place for my parents to be because I don’t know how they would have managed on their own,” she says.
If her parents had remained in Banff, Connie believes they would have had an increased risk of coronavirus exposure, as she would have taken on driving the hour and a half back and forth from Calgary to deliver groceries and provide care.
At Origin, “they’re being looked after mentally and emotionally,” says Connie. “It is a comfort to me because I don’t have to worry about them so often. They are being taken care of the best they can be under the circumstances.”
These are far from normal circumstances. For many people in Canada with senior-aged loved ones who are living alone or without adequate support, this is a worrisome time. In your household, there may be discussions about transitioning a loved one to assisted living near Calgary or another central hub.
But what would that look like? Are assisted living communities safe?
To answer these questions, we talked to residents and families of Origin at Spring Creek to get their perspective on assisted living at Origin during the pandemic.
COVID-19 Safety Measures, Communication & Vaccinations
Origin resident Henry Sagan remembers seeing headlines about the pandemic on television last year and thinking that the virus would be something temporary, like the seasonal flu. But as the infection numbers in Canada grew and grew, his mind was changed.
“Boy oh boy,” he says, recalling those early days, “it’s not going to be over anytime soon.”
Henry can’t wait to be able to, as he says, go where he wants, when he wants, but until then, he likes being at Origin and believes it’s a safe place to be.
“You’re probably safer here than anywhere else because of all of the rules and regulations imposed.”
At the time of writing, this includes only allowing essential visitors access to the facility. These visitors are screened for COVID-19 symptoms and are not permitted entry if deemed at risk for testing positive.
Residents and loved ones are kept up to date on the COVID-19 situation at Origin through email communication and announcements in the community.
“I’ve been extremely impressed by the openness of the communication and the frequency of it,” says Calgary resident Jennifer Pound, daughter of Giselle Joy.
“If something related to the virus occurs, it’s an immediate email notification, and if there’s an opportunity to lessen the restrictions, they’ve been fantastic to notify us so we can have visits in the courtyard, and when restrictions have had to increase, it has always been timely.”
The most exciting announcements at Origin this year have been to alert residents and their loved ones to the scheduled vaccination plan. On February 10th, participating residents and staff received their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which is 95% effective in preventing COVID-19 beginning one week after the second dose.
With Alberta’s updated vaccination program underway, Origin staff can help new families through the vaccination scheduling system even before they move in.
Mountain Town Lifestyle & Staff Support
“I really appreciate the opportunity to walk in nature and look out the door and see the mountains,” says resident Rick Andruchuk, who also enjoys the scenic drives of mountainous Canmore offered by the staff.
His wife Allison agrees.
“The fact that we live at Origin, surrounded by nature, is a daily sense of joy,” she says, “we are not alone or lonely.”
Other residents, including Walter and Jean Worthingham, say the staff at Origin have been crucial to keeping them safe and spirited during this challenging time.
“Wearing masks all the time, supplying food and snacks to the residents,” says Walter. “And the surprising things they do for you! About once a week they’ll come to the door with some sort of surprise, it’s just amazing.”
For Canmore resident Amy Sagan, daughter of Henry, the sense of community and connection at Origin can be as simple as a cup of coffee.
“When he wakes up, he goes down for a cup of coffee and he ends up chatting with people for hours, and it seems like he’s doing a lot better because he’s not living completely on his own,” she says.
Looking Ahead to Coming Together
For anyone with senior-aged loved ones in their lives during the pandemic, there is plenty to dream about for the future. Transitioning a loved one to assisted living near Calgary may not have been a priority before COVID-19, but for many, it has become a dream that places like Origin at Spring Creek can make a reality.
When it is safe to do so, Origin will return to being a place where families gather.
Before the pandemic, Amy would bring her young daughter Lily to swim in the indoor pool with her dad. Lily learned how to swim in that pool, with the help of Henry’s tips.
“We came to Origin pretty often,” she says. “To swim, and for big Christmas events and family meal events.”
Amy can’t wait to get back into their routine, which included having her dad over for Sunday night dinners, and lots of visits at Origin.
“I think that’s the first thing we’ll do, is have him over for a Sunday dinner,” she says.
“Lily will finally be able to hug him again.”