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“Nothing is as we used to know it in any industry, given the pandemic. But JCS is not a retail business; the Phyllis Siperstein Tamarisk Assisted Living Facility’s ‘customers’ are families and their relationships. Maximizing those while the buzzwords of the day are ‘isolation’ and ‘quarantine’ is no easy feat,” said JCS Board Member Doug Emanuel. “I continue to be proud of Tamarisk’s efforts to adapt to the ever-changing COVID-19-related regulations.”

Routines and plans changed for everyone after Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo took action to minimize the spread of the pandemic.  In mid-March, Tamarisk residents could no longer welcome their friends and family to visit; gather to play canasta, bridge, or mah-jongg; and eat or pray communally. Nevertheless, the “new normal” – life in the COVID pandemic – did not deter Tamarisk’s Director of Resident Programming, Jo-Ann Marzilli, from engaging residents with myriad offerings.

Jo-Ann created a “take what you like” store, which was stocked with trivia books, brainteasers, wordplay, crossword, adult coloring books, colored pencils, and decks of card, that were free for the taking. Jo-Ann explained, “We wanted to provide residents with entertaining items while they were restricted to their rooms.

Two to three Tamarisk residents win at our weekly Lotto games; and the winners enjoy the prizes, including gift certificates to Tamarisk’s Country Store, scarves, and Bear Claw backscratchers.  Jo-Ann continues to issue a weekly newsletter to residents that are chock-full of relevant information about current birthdays, holidays, new programs, and a current events calendar.

“We are fortunate to have Bob Schoenberg, one of our Friday night service leaders, who has been conducting a Friday night service by phone for our residents every week, since the pandemic shut down communal gatherings,” said Jo-Ann.

And though visitors could not come for Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, Jo-Ann and her staff provided women with cards and ribboned vases of pink roses and the men with “Best Dad in the World” buttons, respectively. “We didn’t let a holiday go by without trying to make it special for the residents; we distributed flags for Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day) and the Fourth of July.

Tamarisk’s Chef Deb Blazer and kitchen staff have gone above and beyond to make meals special while residents ate in their rooms; residents get a personal menu for each meal and delicious afternoon snacks. Our dining room reopened in mid-July with two residents at each table; while most residents are delighted that the dining room is open, a few residents have opted to continue having meals delivered to their rooms.

Jo-Ann provided residents with information about how to “visit” world-class museums online, including the National Gallery of Art, the Guggenheim and Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum; and live-stream cams of the San Diego Zoo; skylines, beaches, and sights around the world.  Theater buffs could access Disney on Broadway’s 25th-anniversary fundraising concert and Lincoln Center’s digital offerings.

Dedicated to keeping the residents happy and engaged, while still maintaining the essential protocols to keeping Tamarisk residents safe from the coronavirus, the ever-upbeat Jo-Ann established three “Sharing is Caring Boards,” which were posted throughout the facility. “These are for you [Tamarisk residents, relatives and staff] to share your thoughts, notes, poems, artwork, or even a secret message,” she wrote in introducing them. “They are yours to post whatever positive and uplifting messages you would like to share. (Please, nothing negative.)”

Jo-Ann added, “I could not do these programs without the help of my co-managers, staff, and the residents who give their time to run programs. Once Governor Raimondo began to ease restrictions, we began offering more programs for small groups – of no more than five people at a time – such as Bingo, Scrabble, and painting classes.” Residents must remain masked and stay six feet apart, and supplies are either discarded after an individual’s use or cleaned and sanitized, as are the meeting rooms.

In accordance with state regulations, Tamarisk began permitting family visits. “We are so happy that these visits are going so smoothly,” said Jo-Ann. “Unlike in the past, individuals must schedule their visits, which are limited to 45 minutes, and people meet at one of two designated venues, one inside and one outside of Tamarisk. Visitors are screened with COVID-related questions, must be masked, and remain six feet apart from the Tamarisk resident they are visiting.”

“I was delighted to have been able to visit a Tamarisk resident on July 10 after a four-month hiatus, given COVID-related restrictions,” said Doug. “I was impressed with staff members’ efforts to accommodate visitors; in fact, even before visits were permitted, staff did their best when available to arrange for Zoom and/or FaceTime calls between residents and their family members. Without those welcomed opportunities, Tamarisk residents and their families and friends would have remained even more socially distant than the rest of us.”

“In my nearly 10 years as program director here, I’ve had to discard the old ways of interacting and find new ways to developing activities and programs to engage with, and fulfill the needs of, residents,” said Jo-Ann. “I hope I have helped them in some way to get through these COVID-19 challenges. My goal is – and always has been – to try and make the residents happy, as they are my family.”

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