There was high tea at noon, a joyful birthday party, a fabulous dinner, and cocktails of choice. While this merriment sounds like a blast from the not-so-distant past, it was the third week of April and the first time residents at The Danish Home of Chicago could all be together – at least six feet apart – after 14 days of isolation in their apartments.
“This was a banner week at The Danish Home,” wrote president and CEO Scott Swanson to families of residents, with whom he keeps in frequent touch. The letter captured Scott’s celebratory spirit and gratitude that, as of this writing, no residents of the boutique senior community in the historic district of Norwood Park have contracted the coronavirus.
“Everyone was so happy just to be with each other again,” said The Danish Home’s residence counselor, Debi Lathom. “The sense of camaraderie is so important in our small community.” As she spoke, director of resident services Robin Decker was leading the close-knit, but safely distanced, seniors in a game that, for the first time in weeks, did not happen over the community’s closed-circuit TV system.
Both Scott and Debi are quick to credit The Danish Home’s diligence in following cautionary measures, such as wearing masks, regularly taking residents’ and employees’ temperatures, vital signs and pulse oximetry, and restricting visits to only employees and essential medical personnel.
“We’ve been lucky, but we’ve also been cautious and consistent in following recommendations from the City of Chicago, the IDPH and the CDC,” said Scott.
Furthermore, he said, the 129-year-old community’s small size, employee longevity and healthy staff-to-resident ratio foster a culture of stability, confidence and resilience. To illustrate, Scott shared part of a note from a resident’s family member:
“I wanted to let you know how grateful I am to all of you who have done an amazing job keeping all the residents safe.”
“We’re doing what we’ve always done – maintaining our routines and keeping our residents engaged,” Scott said.
“We actually had a lot of fun during the isolation,” added Debi, noting daily games played through circuit TV and walkie-talkies, virtual chapel services and current event discussions, FaceTime sessions, one-on-one cards games with staff, mobile bar carts, and room service providing three meals a day.
“The residents loved watching us run around like goofballs as we kept them entertained!” she said. Some residents with sewing skills also enjoyed making protective masks.
Now that the weather is better and the quarantine has eased, a walking program will allow a few residents to stroll the home’s gardens at a time and at safe social distances. The Danish Home’s gardens have always been lovely, according to Scott, but this year they will be even more inviting as the property’s landscape architect adds more blossoms and blooms.
Until non-essential visitors can once again enter The Danish Home, Scott encourages cards, letters, video calls and “glass visits,” like the one a resident had some weeks ago when her family held signs, waved Norwegian flags, and sang “Happy Birthday” to her outside the community’s windows.
“We have learned a lot through this,” said Scott. “When it’s all said and done, daily monitoring and stringent health precautions will continue to be necessary.
“But nothing – not even a pandemic – can change The Danish Home’s sense of family and friendship that has been our legacy for nearly 130 years. That’s been proven.”