In this episode of Senior Living LIVE!, we travel to Arbor Terrace Morris Plains to check in with Engagement Director, Leah McRae and discuss what life has been like at the community over the past year.

From learning new technologies to creating unique memorable moments, hear about the adjustments that the community made during the pandemic to help keep residents happy, healthy, and engaged. 



Video Transcript

- Hello everyone. And welcome into Senior Living Live. My name is Melissa. I hope you are having a fantastic day today. Well, we are traveling to one of our Arbor communities today as we check in with Arbor Terrace, Morris Plains in New Jersey, Leah McRae is the Engagement Director there. Leah, how are you? How was the weather there?

- Thank you, Melissa for interviewing me, the weather here is pretty cold today in April and we were expecting better weather by now but it's around 50 degrees and this morning we woke up it was 37. So it was a little surprising but we adjust easily.

- Yes, you do. And you've been doing a lot of adjusting over the last year or your plus now. I mean, I have to imagine that 2021 spring looks a lot different than the spring of 2020. Can you tell us a little bit about what life was like at the community? What it's been like over the last year?

- Well it's been a little challenging. It was, being, we had to adjust to a lot of different things that we weren't expecting of course, no one expected us to, get the, have COVID pandemic. And then we had to close our doors for visitors, for families. And in entertainment was, something that we will, they cherish so much. They look forward to their happy hours and stuff like that. So we had to really adjust by having the entertainers come in virtually to entertain or lecturers come in virtually which is not the same as having that personal connection there. We had to adjust by, having the families connect with their relatives and their loved one by Zoom or by FaceTime. And some of our seniors are not familiar with that type of technology. So it was a little challenging for them but we try to make the best of it for everything that we did for them.

- Yeah and engagement you mentioned it is such a huge reason why people choose this community while they choose many of the Arbor communities and that's your job. So what was it like for you as we continued on with the pandemic to try to continue to mix things up a little bit with also with just being so limited and social distancing?

- Oh, good question. So we had with residents who had to remain in their room because we were in quarantine or whatever we had to definitely rely on a lot of technology and rely on each other too. For the residents I think I learned how they have actually learned to rely on us, who they have and what they have in their rooms, in the community because they couldn't get that from the outside. So one of the things that we had to do was try to and we were very successful with it. We had to livestream programs through the TV to a channel or in-house TV. And thankfully Arbor gave us the resources from day one which is called the iN2L. And we were actually able to go on there and do programs that could be live stream into the residents rooms. So they can actually, if they're watching, if we're doing a trivia or something like that and they may have like a laptop or a phone in their room, they can go on by Zoom, to the iN2L and answer and back and forth. We had that way of communicating with them. So that was one of the biggest thing that was able to help us with the activities, because they can still be a part of the activities and the programs that they enjoy but be in their room at the same time.

- Yeah that's great. You know, as we continue to talk about technology what other types of technologies, you mentioned Zoom, you mentioned this system what about Eversound or other types of technologies that maybe weren't in play before but now the residents there are really up to speed with?

- Well, we use the Eversound for so many different things especially for the family visits, we were able to have them have their window visits, that Eversound provided us with visitation packets that they can virtually, they can connect with one another from outside the door. They can hear them it's one thing to see but then you wanna hear that person. So relatives or families who were using like a FaceTime option, we were able to help them with setting up the headphones so that they can communicate with their family and their loved ones. We usually have our iPads that we use for taking pictures and stuff like that. We were able to get on some of the apps on the iPad that we can use on our large screen TVs to do programming with them also. So those things were definitely a big help.

- And the pictures didn't stop during the pandemic?

- No, no. We even use the iPad for a lot more sending pictures. You know we were able to send videos also and pictures through Sagely and the iPads.

- And I'm sure the families really appreciated that. Just having some way to reach and be in touch with their loved ones. Now things are looking a little bit different. So the vaccinations for Arbor and residents started in December and to January, I think by now everybody has had a, that second dose of vaccine. So what is, what did it start to look like in January, February, March until now?

- So we started our vaccination, I believe like you said in January, February so January and February we were all vaccinated, most of our us employees were vaccinated and we were opening up or doors for more things that they can have. We can have the families kind of come in like into the common areas and visit with them and indoor visits, especially with the weather being cold, they were able to do some indoor visits that was really, good for them because they can actually see the person especially for the ones who were struggling with, dealing with technology. Now they can actually see their families come in. And I also, we started also open up the availability for them to have scenic rides, socially distance on the bus where they can go around in the community and the neighborhood and local areas and still see the town is still there. The trees are still there. That store is still open that type of thing. And I say that because they come back saying those things, wow, you know this place is still around and it was so good to go out and see those things and enjoy, especially if they live in the neighborhood that, the streets are still busy and things are still happening even though we went past this pandemic.

- Yeah and I know it's been tough for everybody and I know that's music to your ears that they're able to kind of sort of get back to normal. What do you think your residents, as you hear the feedback what are they most looking forward to as everybody gets vaccinated?

- They're definitely looking forward to having their families come in. I must say we have a very strong family connection with our Arbor families. We had families before the pandemic that would come in and do a cooking program and they will do a tea party or they would do a movie night or they would come in and show us something that mom enjoyed so that they can the visit wasn't just a visit was a visit where they would do BNB activity. Even when we had our happy hour they would come in and help serve. And they love seeing that because they're doing those actions with their family. So that's one of the things I know that they're looking forward to having come out come back and then getting out, you know, going out to shows, we used to go out to the Papermill play house and the Huntington play house and have dinner and a show. And they're definitely looking forward to those events and even the lecturers and some of our community spiritual folks like our rabbi and our priest coming in to do services. So definitely those are the things that they, what's normal for them. And now, they're looking forward to getting those things back.

- Yeah that's amazing.

- I'm looking forward to it too.

- Oh absolutely yes. And you had mentioned earlier in your conversation that, during the pandemic it appeared that the residents really really needed to rely on you more to relay on staff more. You were the connection that they had, what they had at the time because they didn't have their family members. So what were some of the kind of lighter moments or some of the more memorable moments of the last year?

- I think the most recent one I can remember was when we had in February, when it was Ash Wednesday and we really needed to have a priest in the building. And, because it was very important to most of our, we have a very big Catholic community and they wanted to have Ash Wednesday service and whatnot. And we actually, one of our resident who was a retirement senior actually volunteered to do a nice little service and the ashes for them. And every staff that wanted to go get ashes but couldn't go to church because they weren't doing it. They came to him and he did the ashes for them. And I think it was like such a baby bed. This is a resident that was really kind of to himself and reserve and everything like that and when we asked him to do it, he was so delighted to do it and I think it just really helped him to open up. Now you see him in the hallway and it's like, how are you? You know, you're doing, everybody's just like really looking up to him because he did such a great job and it was definitely an opportunity for him to do something purposeful for the community. That's one of the big highlights of dealing with relying on who we have and what we have in our community.

- Yeah and that being the one thing that you didn't even know what would bring him sort of out of his shell and now everybody knows who he is and he knows everybody just through that interaction. That's fantastic. You've had milestones too, some big birthdays, maybe some anniversaries.

- Yes, so we had a resident that celebrated her 100 birthday on Christmas day. She was born in and we like, what, pandemic whatever we going to have to do something special for her. Her son had recently moved to Florida. It was her only child. And we really wanted to make it special for her. So we reached out to him, of course, and couldn't fly back at the time, but we said, don't worry we'll take care of it. So we reached out to the community and we reached out to the mayor and the police department they did a big parade for her. The mayor gave her a key to the city. We had her all dressed up. And then her, I guess the son sent the word out to the families that were around, including her granddaughter, who reached out to more families. So they all came for a window visit and brought the flyers and banners. And then I reached out to the local newspaper and they did an article in the newspaper for her. And she was just so delighted. Everyone was just in such a happy buzz that day because we were celebrating something grand on Christmas day, in the middle of a pandemic. And just try, the way we were able to pull it off and make everyone happy it was just really a great moment for all of us. We still talk about it.

- That's so amazing, that something so grand could happen in the middle of this pandemic. And really, as you say, be something that you could continue to talk about and make a memory of for years to come. Excellent stuff. So I feel like I've gotten to know the community a little bit more just in our brief conversation but Leah if there's one thing you want people to know about this community, what is it?

- I would say it's the community that cares. I would say that it's a community that really makes that deep connection with the residents. And being an engagement you get to see, you get to be that type of social person that goes in there and get to know the residents so much more on a deeper level because they come to you and they talk and they share and you can just see the buzz of the staff whatever staff member it is. They know the person, they know their coffee they know how they want their room set up. They know, you know, what makes that person happy. And if it means that they go the extra mile to do it, to make, to connect with that residents, to make them feel happier, in a place that they're may not be used to because it's a new experience for them. And we all gather up together and make a team effort to make sure that that person is happy. And we realize that if the residents is happy, the families are going to be satisfied and happy too.

- I love it, sounds like you guys have been doing an excellent job and really doing everything possible at a time that was kind of a little unbearable and a little tough. And you really had to think outside the box. So we thank you for, and the staff for being so creative and trying to make the best of this this past year. And hopefully things sounds like they're looking up. So thank you so much for taking the time to check in and to let us know how you're doing.

- No, thank you for having me. I appreciate it.

- Thank you. Well, if you enjoyed this interview with Leah, head on over to for more of our video content, all about Senior Living. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As always we thank you for watching Senior Living Live. Have a great day everybody.

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