Safe and sound at Charlestown

Charlestown residents find unique ways to come together while practicing social distancing

Created date

May 5th, 2020
An exterior shot of the community, the front entrance of one of the residence buildings surrounded by flowers in bloom for spring

Even when following social distancing guidelines, Charlestown community members enjoy views of the incredible landscape from their windows, balconies, and patios.

Charlestown residents do their part to flatten the COVID-19 curve

Betty Caldwell can usually be found exploring Charlestown’s 110-acre campus in search of wildlife to photograph. But in early April, instead of wandering about the Catonsville community with her camera in hand, she was at home in her apartment, doing her part to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic

“I tried to keep up with my photography,” says Betty, whose apartment overlooks Charlestown’s half-mile-long nature trail. “We are lucky here to have such beautiful grounds, flowering bushes, and the lake. I decided to photograph spring songbirds that I spotted in the trees right off my balcony.”

Before the first case of COVID-19 was reported in the U.S., Erickson Living, the company that manages Charlestown, enacted its emergency preparedness plan, and assembled a task force of individuals across the enterprise. 

“All across our family of communities, residents and staff are taking extraordinary steps to protect the health and safety of our loved ones, friends, neighbors, and caregivers,” wrote Alan Butler, Erickson Living’s chief executive officer, in a letter to the enterprise’s 27,000 residents and 14,000 employees. “I am confident that we will look back on this unprecedented health event and be proud of how well we cared for each other.”

Residents were asked to remain in their apartments, while hundreds of staff members assumed roles outside of their typical scope of work to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of the more than 2,000 residents like Betty who call Charlestown home. 

With seven on-site restaurants, dining with friends is at the heart of the Charlestown community. But to combat the spread of the Coronavirus, Charlestown instituted their own version of Grubhub, preparing and delivering daily meals to more than 2,000 residents, along with heating instructions and a phone number to call with questions. 

Breakfast and lunch items were provided, as well as snacks. Concierge service was put in place to deliver groceries, prescriptions, newspapers, packages, and other items to the resident’s doorsteps. 

“You could choose an entrée with veggies, soups, salads—and these incredible Charlestown desserts, that you cannot resist no matter what,” says Betty. “It’s an astonishing thing to think about how many meals they prepared right here on campus and delivered to each resident’s door! The concierge service was like what you would find in a hotel. There were even some things—toothpaste, toilet paper, etc.—that they delivered free of charge.” 

Residents enjoy their days alone together

Charlestown residents enjoyed significant advantages over those who were isolated at home. At a time when millions of American seniors were particularly concerned about their well-being, Charlestown residents like Betty could take solace in a wide range of opportunities to remain engaged while safeguarding their personal health. 

“Every day our in-house TV Channel 972 gave a briefing of what was going on in the community. It was terrific,” says Betty. 

The station also aired staff-led fitness classes, faith services, and streamed educational lectures. Updates regarding COVID-19 and community information were aired several times daily. 

“There were a ton of things going on to keep the residents engaged and connected to community life while everyone was social distancing,” says Pam Stiner, director of finance at Charlestown. 

Like many Charlestown staff members, Stiner stepped out of her normal role and pitched in by leading daily puzzles and bingo games via telephone and the video conferencing platform, Zoom. “At one point, resident participation surged to 150 daily puzzles and 80 bingo players!” 

Thanks to technology, Betty’s photography interest group was also able to meet virtually.

“We connected through Zoom. It was so fun. We had 17 people join in. We were so engaged and so happy to see one another. We talked about photography, which we love to talk about!” says Betty. 

Attitude of gratitude

Some residents and their families took to social media to connect and posted messages of thanks and encouragement. 

“And our super Fitness Director Teresa power walks our packages to our doors and our student servers deliver our meals to us, with muffins, chips, granola bars, and nuts. We are blessed!” wrote Judith P. on Charlestown’s Facebook page. 

Pat S. posted on Facebook, “What a relief it is to know that my 93-year-old mom (independent living resident) is being treated like a queen. The care and concern that the staff is giving her is awesome. I miss seeing her, but I know by talking to her every day that she is good and well taken care of. Thank you Charlestown for all that you do!”

The COVID-19 task force met multiple times each day to review the latest reports from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), local health departments, and local governments, enacting new protocols as necessary. 

Some of those protocols included limiting visitation, in addition to screening all employees and visitors with a series of questions and temperature checks before granting them access to the community. Personal deliveries of groceries and other parcels were dropped off at the main entrance, rather than the resident’s clubhouse, and were then delivered by Charlestown staff to each apartment. And the concierge program was enhanced to include delivery of U.S. mail as well as complimentary dog-walking services. 

Since moving to Charlestown four years ago, Betty has watched Charlestown’s staff heed severe weather warnings, including staff members staying overnight during snowstorms, but she’s never witnessed anything quite like this.   

“All of the staff pitched in as needed,” says Betty. “I have incredible respect for how they responded to the pandemic. It’s a testament to their commitment to the people who live in this community.” 


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