How Cushing Park is dealing with COVID-19 while housing the most vulnerable group

Brookdale Cushing Park is a senior living center that was hit hard by the pandemic, yet the way they handled it was extraordinary.

The Brookdale Cushing Park senior living center courtesy of Executive Director, Phil Potts.

The Brookdale Cushing Park senior living center courtesy of Executive Director, Phil Potts.

Ethan Brayall-Brown, Writer

FRAMINGHAM – Brookdale Cushing Park* is a branch of Brookdale Senior Living, one of the biggest senior living franchises in America. Senior living communities and nursing homes were hit extremely hard during the COVID-19 pandemic, as the elderly population is one of the highest risk groups.

 

Joseph Wendelken, spokesperson for the Rhode Island Department of Health, said, “they are [at higher risk] because oftentimes older adults have other health issues that they’re managing simultaneously, so the impacts have been significant. Our hospitalization rates among older adults are still higher than any other age cohort.” 

 

The impact on Cushing Park was the same. They had to go into lockdown and everyone had to isolate to stop the initial spread in March.

 

“We had to limit visits from families and friends and we suspended moving in new residents. We closed the dining rooms, delivered everything to residents’ rooms and suspended all community activities,” said Phil Potts, the executive director of Brookdale Cushing Park. 

 

This didn’t stop Gloria Daniels, 90,  a resident of Brookdale Cushing Park, from making the best of her situation. She lived in Framingham before moving into Cushing Park and still had a big sense of community there. 

 

“I think that talking on the phone to each other, especially the first few months, helped. And sometimes [friends] would come to the end of the driveway and have a chat with me,” said Daniels.

 

While some residents who lived in Independent Living, like Daniels, were cut off from everyone, other residents required more care.

 

Cushing Park has three levels of care: Independent Living, Assisted Living and Memory Care. Daniels is in Independent Living care where residents aren’t attended to as much and live in an apartment or cottage. Memory Care residents require more assistance.

 

Most Memory Care residents have advanced stages of dementia and need to be taken care of around the clock to ensure they are okay. To do this, Cushing Park took the staff who was originally used for the activities that were closed, and moved them to Memory Care.

 

“They got more one-on-one attention, because it’s Memory Care. We couldn’t just isolate them in their rooms,” said Potts. 

 

When the COVID-19 vaccine came out, phase one of the rollout targeted senior citizens.

 

“We had a very, very significant amount of demand early on, when eligibility first opened up to older adults and people in congregate living settings,” said Wendelken. 

 

Cushing Park was quick to get their residents and staff vaccinated and now have a 100% vaccination rate among residents and a 90% vaccination rate among staff. They also have not had a breakout case of COVID-19 since April. However, it wasn’t easy to get everyone vaccinated.

 

“You know, we worked really hard when vaccinations were first announced. We started working with families daily on really educating them or planning on doing so. I had some families with pushback that didn’t want their loved ones to get vaccinated,” said Potts. 

 

This being said, after educating residents’ families, they achieved 100% immunization .

 

When someone does test positive for COVID-19, they are quarantined and contact traced. The staff looks at who has been around that resident and tests them. If those people test positive, the whole campus is tested, both staff and residents. Then everyone is retested four days later. 

 

The goal for Cushing Park is to bring back the old way of life before the pandemic, but in different ways. On Oct. 9, they had an Oktoberfest. Activities and performers were outside, everyone had to be six feet apart and masks had to be worn.

 

Daniels is wary of getting more active on campus. She has stopped going to church and “would prefer to keep away from a lot of people.” However, she is happy to see more activities open up and that more people are able to attend them.

 

She is also very pleased with how Potts has handled this situation. 

 

“He’s very strict, and he enforces the rules and they have to be followed. But at the same time, whenever he could, he has been able to introduce a lot of the activities a little at a time,” said Daniels.

 

On Oct. 12, residents began being administered vaccine booster shots.

 

To keep the older adults safe moving on, Wendelken said “keeping vaccination rates high” is important, and as a whole, the community has to work together. 

 

“So if we want rates and transmission rates lower among older adults, we have to keep transmission rates low throughout the communities. If we’re seeing a lot of spread among younger adults, eventually, that’s going to get back to adults as well,” said Wendelken.

*The author’s grandmother, Karen Peck is Vice President of Clinical Services at Brookdale Senior Living.

Update: The article has been updated to note the author’s relation to the Vice President of Clinical Services at Brookdale Senior Living

For more information, Ethan can be reached at [email protected]s.edu. 

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