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Community lifts spirits of Cochrane’s most vulnerable

Seniors in two of Cochrane’s long-term-care facilities are persevering through the pandemic with a little help from their community .

COCHRANE— Seniors in two of Cochrane’s long-term-care facilities are persevering through the pandemic with a little help from their community. 

Car rallies, online church services and outdoor beautification projects are among the goings-on brightening the days of residents at Big Hill Lodge and Bethany Cochrane. 

Soon after the COVID-19 outbreak hit Alberta 15 months ago, Big Hill Lodge was abuzz with car rallies, Zoom visits and donations of gifts and electronics as friends and strangers came together to lift spirits, said manager Sandra Robin. 

“The community stayed very connected with us,” she said. “We appreciate the community and Town for being there for the most vulnerable sector of Cochrane. The impact of this community on this lodge has been immense.” 

The evidence of that support is everywhere residents turn. It is the artwork and cards created at the hands of children displayed on a large wall in the facility to the heart-shaped frames crafted by neighbourhood youngsters hanging on trees outside of residents’ windows. 

“It lets the seniors know that they are being thought of and that they aren’t forgotten,” Robin said. “The residents just love it.” 

Robin said neither staff nor residents imagined the pandemic would last as long as it has. 

“For the first few months it was an inconvenience,” she said. “Then it became something where, at times, we were concerned about our residents’ mental health.” 

Big Hill Lodge staff is devoted to ensuring the health, safety, well-being and happiness of the lodge’s residents throughout the pandemic, Robin said. 

“We have always worked with the knowledge that every time we come into this building could possibly be a risk,” she said. “We, as a team, have committed ourselves to really doing what we’re supposed to do when we’re not at work to the very best of our ability. That’s what we ask of our staff every day and that’s what our families are entrusting us to do and support us in doing.” 

To keep spirits lifted during such a difficult time, the activities department quickly got to work. It requested and received used iPads and iPhones from the community so residents can connect with family and friends virtually, said Robin. 

iPads are set up in the rooms of new residents, as they self-isolated, containing games and a virtual tour of the facility that introduces residents and staff. They also receive welcome boxes with gifts, treats and puzzles, and the department created a Facebook page featuring photos of staff with and without their masks on. 

Last fall, a group of Cochrane residents created a seniors’ wish list and rounded up gifts for the residents while the Cochrane Lioness Lions Club donated gifts to staff. 

“Christmas here was probably the best Christmas I celebrated in 20 years,” Robin said. “That had an awful lot to do with the community of Cochrane. When we see this community do what they’re doing for these residents that impacts our whole team. It’s infectious. It impacts us all very positively.” 
Community support is also abundant at Bethany Cochrane with car parades, online church services and window visits from community members. 

“We’ve had a lot of support over the last year,” said site administrator Monica Johnson. “The community has really rallied around us. The residents are just so grateful.” 

When seniors looked out their windows last summer, they were greeted by a colourful array of flowers in their courtyard planted by friends and neighbours. 

Johnson said work has already begun this year with volunteer groups planting and maintaining the courtyard. 

“Our garden looks so wonderful,” she said. “It reinvigorates everybody to feel that support.” 

Before Halloween, Johnson said staff put a call out to the community for carved pumpkins in a friendly pumpkin-carving competition with great response. 

“We had a lot of pumpkins,” she said. “It was a really nice way to connect with the community.” 

Before Christmas, Fortis Alberta decorated the exterior of Bethany Cochrane with thousands of twinkling lights. 

Johnson said the pandemic has been difficult on residents, who miss their families and being out in the community, as well as staff who have been extra diligent in ensuring the safety of residents. 

“The staff feel a sense of duty and responsibility ensuring we’re following the guidelines set out by the province,” she said. “They can sometimes feel the weight of their responsibility and this helps perk up their spirits just to know the community is behind them.” 

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