Westminster-Canterbury helps to connect seniors with their families to prevent loneliness

Posted at 8:32 PM, Jul 26, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-26 21:11:00-04

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - The extended lockdown at senior living communities has been hard on many residents as some families have been limited to window visits and virtual calls.

As the pandemic stretches on, Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay in Virginia Beach is helping to connect loved ones while keeping residents safe.

The senior living community recently came up with a creative solution to help fight against the virus and isolation while reuniting families.

On Sunday, Dana Hawkins-Zacharias and her extended family came to visit their grandma Edna Hawkins-McLaughlin, or Mimi, as they affectionately call her. Hawkins-McLaughlin has been living in the Enhanced Services, or assisted living section of the community for 15 years.

Sunday was the first time the family has seen Edna since March.

I know she misses her family as do we miss her very much,” said Dana Hawkins-Zacharias, Edna’s granddaughter.

Like so many other senior living communities, Westminster-Canterbury went into lockdown in March to keep residents safe from COVID-19.

“In the beginning, no one really knew what this was going to look like, so we immediately put in place what we need to keep our residents and staff safe,” said Westminster-Canterbury’s Administrator of Enhanced Services Jacquelyn Fries.

The separation has been painful for Hawkins-Zacharias and her grandma.

“I know she’s been very, very lonely,” she said. “We’re huggers, so we miss that. We miss not being able to give her a hug and tell her in her ear that can just hear a little bit how much we love her.”

Until Sunday’s visit, the family’s time with Edna was limited to virtual calls.

The visit marked an incredible milestone. Edna turned 101 years old.

Four generations, and soon to be five, came together for the celebration. Hawkins-Zacharias’ daughter Devon is due August 12 with a little boy.

The group sang “Happy Birthday” to Edna and brought her a cake, balloons, and hand-made signs.

The celebration was made possible through a Plexiglas partition that sits outside of the Hoy Center on campus to help families feel closer to loved ones.

“It’s her 101 birthday and that in it of itself is pretty remarkable,” said Hawkins-Zacharias. “I’m just thankful to have this opportunity for all of us to be together to celebrate with her in this way.

The innovative yet simple concept, known as the community’s “Outdoor Living Room,” breaks down barriers of isolation and allows family members to reconnect.

“It’s definitely heart-warming,” Fries said. “It’s very emotional.”

For now, the partition offers hope until families can hold their loved ones again.

“Hopefully this won’t be the new normal because I think being able to actually embrace your loved ones is the best thing you can give to another person,” said Hawkins-Zacharias.

Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay also offers visits at its seawall where families could go to the beach in front of the campus and catch up with loved ones in person while social distancing.