This article originally appeared in the August 2020 issue of Susquehanna Style magazine.
Residents of Willow Valley Communities, a premier 55 plus senior living community in Lancaster, PA discuss how they are feeling safer during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Due to the outbreak of COVID-19, people have been advised to stay away from large groups, practice social distancing, and wear masks. With the community setting of senior living communities, it might appear that the residents there have more to worry about than someone living in his or her own home. However, many residents of Willow Valley Communities, a premier 55 plus senior living community in Lancaster, PA, say they actually feel safer.
“We think Willow Valley Communities is the safest place to be during a pandemic,” says resident Bob Scala, who has lived at the Spring Run community since 2012.
His wife, Jan Scala, agrees, “There couldn’t be a better place to be.”
Both Bob and Jan have a medical background. Bob worked in medical research, and Jan was a nurse who worked in the operating room and then for a physician. They agree that they have been given good guidance by the leadership at Willow Valley Communities and have appreciated the regular updates shared with residents. “Janet and I, we’re in the vulnerable population, both by age and underlying medical issues,” said Bob. He notes that social distancing has been among the proper response tactics to mitigate an outbreak.
Willow Valley Communities implemented a wide variety of other precautionary measures early on in the COVID-19 pandemic to protect residents. Many are still in place. Outside visitors are limited and most common areas are closed. There is no communal dining; meals are picked up at the culinary venues or curbside at the Local Table gourmet restaurant at The Clubhouse. To reduce the number of trips outside the community, Willow Valley Communities started a grocery delivery service in April, which remains in operation. Additionally, every resident and team member entering the campus is screened with questions and a temperature check.
“Our management team has given me a high level of confidence,” says Bob. This confidence extends to the Scala family, including their son who is a physician currently on the front lines in a New Jersey hospital doing intubations in the COVID-19 ward. They also have a grandson who is working in an intensive care unit in New Jersey. “They rest easy knowing that Mom and Dad are here,” according to Bob.
The Scalas are very active in many things around the campus at Willow Valley Communities. “The kind of educational, cultural, and social opportunities that are offered are all wonderful,” says Bob. While it is disappointing that some of those activities have been suspended as a result of the virus, Bob says that he has actually enjoyed the break from his busy calendar. “We’re finding out how great it is not to have so much on the agenda.” If the Scalas change their minds and want to fill up their schedules, they are able to access any number of the live or recorded programs that Willow Valley Communities is providing online.
Mary Lou Frick, who moved to the Lakes Campus at Willow Valley Communities in 2019, also keeps in touch with friends from her former working life in New York City. “I’m very glad I’m not there,” she says. “They’ve been having a hard time.” Her friends back home had trouble getting groceries delivered due to the increased demand. Mary Lou says she appreciated the Willow Valley Communities meal pickup service with her choice of custom, freshly prepared meals. “The chefs do an excellent job,” she says. “We have very good management and they have done everything they can to protect us and keep us comfortable.”
Carol Ohlson, one of Willow Valley Communities’ newest residents, moved into her apartment on April 6th. According to COVID-19 protocol for incoming residents then, as a precautionary measure, she was asked to self-isolate for two weeks. Her new neighbors found ways to make her feel welcome. “The people here are so kind and helpful and caring,” Carol said. The day after she moved in was Carol’s birthday. “So many of the residents of my building sent cards under my door and helped with so much. Fellow residents also brought cakes, more cards, and a mask. “I felt so wanted,” says Carol.
Investment bank Ziegler, which specializes in the senior living sector, recently validated the sentiments expressed by these Willow Valley Communities residents by citing the benefits of living in a life plan community (also known as continuing care retirement communities, or CCRCs) like Willow Valley Communities. Ziegler’s research found that life plan communities were the type of senior living communities least affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, reaffirming their stable future. In a May Ziegler CFO Hotline survey, it was revealed that eight out of 10 not-for-profit life plan communities reporting positive COVID-19 cases had fewer than 2% of residents and staff affected. Ziegler said benefits of life plan communities include safety and security, reduced social isolation, and enhanced concierge-type services to residents during the COVID-19 lockdown. These services have included grocery and meal deliveries to residents and increased online resident activities and engagement.
Like all of us, Willow Valley Communities looks forward to the day when things can return to some semblance of normal. Until then, the community is carefully evaluating which of its many beautiful, award-winning amenities – from the magnificent Cultural Center, The Clubhouse, Day Spa, stunning fitness and aquatics centers, events, clubs, and culinary venues – can reopen, with safety as a priority. As opportunities for re-engagement grow, Residents express their appreciation for feeling safe, connected, and grateful while living in a large community.