The coronavirus pandemic is shedding new light on nursing homes and assisted living. Plenty of bad news has focused on assisted living facilities and nursing homes unable to meet the needs of their residents. Fortunately, there’s another option –one built on Wesleyan principles. Methodist Retirement Communities serves about 2,000 residents in 13 centers across Texas.
Rev. Sherry Q. Crenshaw moved to the Methodist Retirement Communities Cornerstone campus in Texarkana in December. She had retired earlier from serving as pastor at Waskom FUMC and now attends the neighboring Williams Memorial UMC.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Crenshaw enjoyed walking to her new church. Chaplain Dale Vickers, who serves as associate pastor from Williams Memorial also regularly came to Cornerstone, leading Bible bingo once a month and sermons on Sunday mornings. He also attends on Wednesday afternoons, where leaders from the various home churches of members are invited to host the service.
On the first Sunday, when Rev. Vickers could not come to Cornerstone because of the lockdown, Crenshaw preached in his place at the chapel on campus.
“During times like this, everything should be about hope,” she said. “We put our faith in Jesus Christ.”
Crenshaw now attends services virtually at a few churches over the internet. “They’re all preaching the same message,” she said. “Jesus is our hope in the future. God is in control.”
During the months of the coronavirus, Vickers created “Dale’s Daily Devotions” for residents. “I can’t wait to go back,” Vickers said. “They’re my family.”
Crenshaw explained that ever since the pandemic, Methodist Retirement Communities has gone the extra mile to ensure the safety of residents. “The staff has been unbelievably caring and nurturing,” she said. “They will do anything for you. They go above and beyond – every step of the way during this.”
For instance, staff delivers hot meals to residents, instead of their usual gathering for meals.
“We were encouraged not to get together and to wear masks,” Crenshaw said.
When the dining room recently reopened, only a few residents could go at a time. Before entering, their temperatures are taken to ensure they are healthy.
Whenever residents leave the campus, staff record when and where they go to help keep everyone informed in case an infection arises. “They are putting every precaution in place to keep us as safe as they can,” Crenshaw said.
Methodist Retirement Communities president and CEO Alan Brown explained that being a faith-based, nonprofit makes a world of difference.
“That dictates how we take care of people,” he said. “We’re a Christian organization, and that’s reflected in the way we treat our people, in both our employees and our residents. It also drives us to excellence. We want to innovate and meet the needs in our communities.”
Methodist Retirement Communities took that commitment seriously in the midst of the pandemic. “As soon as we could, we put procedures in place to protect our people,” Brown said. “We had a rapid response team coordinating the effort.”
Strict guidelines were followed to ensure the safety of residents. Measures included minimizing groups and visitors, using masks and temporarily closing common areas.
At the same time, staff wanted to promote the mental and emotional health of residents. “We’re fighting isolation, loneliness and boredom,” Brown said. “We came up with innovative ways to connect people with their families.”
For example, the team made various forms of technology available to residents so they could try video chats, Zoom and Facetime. “We had virtual visits, window visits and car parades,” Brown said. “That’s the plus of being faith-based. We’re all part of a community. We’re a family.”
Residents in the Methodist Retirement Communities became involved in making masks and even started a program on Facebook where they provided afternoon sessions to engage students. For example, one taught a history class about her experience living through World War II.
“It was a great way to connect people,” Brown said. “It gave our older adults purpose and a sense of value – and it gave younger people a way to connect with the seniors.”
Now, Methodist Retirement Communities is preparing to safely reopen common areas, sticking to precautions and standards established by the CDC, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and Texas Health and Human Services.
Methodist Retirement Communities was established in 1962 to develop and manage a new retirement community called Edgewater, when the Buccaneer Hotel in Galveston was gifted to the Texas Annual Conference. Edgewater included residential living apartments at Moody House and skilled nursing and rehab, including a special certified Alzheimer’s care unit at Turner Geriatric Center.
The second campus was acquired in 1970, Crestview Retirement Community in Bryan, which offers skilled nursing and rehab. Services grew to include assisted living, residential apartments and home health care services. In 1981, Methodist Retirement Communities built its first HUD-subsidized community next door to Crestview and added a second center four years later. At the same time, the Town Creek community was constructed in Huntsville.
Methodist Retirement Communities has continued to grow over the years – adding facilities in Corpus Christi, College Station, Lufkin, Texarkana, La Porte and League City.
Brown explained that the commitment to a faith-based environment makes the retirement community unique. There are chaplains on campus, and local pastors who come to the chapels on campus to host Sunday services, prayer and Bible studies. Residents are also encouraged to stay connected to their home churches.
“This is a time when people need their pastors the most, and they need to stay connected to the community,” he said. “They don’t need to feel forgotten.”
Since Methodist Retirement Communities is non-denominational, residents often attend each other’s services and learn about each other’s religions.
Residents also connect over the common areas, playing billiards or bridge, watching a movie or enjoying the swimming pool. Transportation brings seniors to plays and other events. For those in nursing care, Brown said, there are still virtual trips to take them all over the world.
He explained that residents can choose between cottage homes, apartments or assisted living facilities. For those who need assistance throughout the day, nursing care is another option. Memory care is also a top priority.
“We want to be a pioneer in memory care,” Brown said. “We’re not just finding what works best; we want to define what best is. We want to be in the forefront.”
Methodist Retirement Communities also has HUD housing options for low income seniors. Brown explained that the organization’s goal is to provide a place where seniors can thrive, surrounded by friends, in a worry-free environment. That includes giving residents a choice of food service, including bistros, room service and grab-and-go options.
Care is inspired by scripture, especially Matthew 7:12 or the Golden Rule, treating others the way you would want to be treated – and that can make a world of difference in retirement community living. For more information, visit mrcaff.org.