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Will Rogers adapts with window visits, flowers, games

A bench set up at Saranac Village at Will Rogers in Saranac Lake is made for families to visit with residents safely during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Enterprise photo — Andy Flynn)

SARANAC LAKE — The Saranac Village at Will Rogers elder residence is on lockdown, only allowing outsiders in for medical visits, but Executive Director Jamie Whidden said he is still trying to find ways to keep residents connected.

Life inside has changed drastically. Residents and staff alike have adapt to new situations every day as they try to fight the negative effects of isolation.

Whidden said the hardest part has been that elderly residents and their families cannot sit in the same room together. He said the Will Rogers staff is bringing them as close as possible with a visitation window. They can sit on either side of the window and talk through a phone.

“We want to just give our appreciation out to the families and the residents. They’ve been so supportive,” Whidden said. “We’ve had to change the lifestyle here.”

He said they have tried to brighten residents’ days when they can. While communal dinners are not continuing and residents now must eat in their rooms, Price Chopper donated flowers to serve with their meals.

“While it’s been difficult … gratitude, we keep hearing it over and over,” Whidden said. “There’s a real sense that this is a situation that’s very dangerous.”

Staff have been organizing games which can be played at 6 feet away, including group crossword puzzles, Wheel of Fortune and bingo.

“The connection that the staff and the residents have here, it’s a beautiful relationship we all have,” Whidden said. “They thank us every day, and those pats on the back keep us going.”

When staff members run into town to shop for residents now, they wear masks and gloves, just as they do every moment they are inside the facility. Upon arrival for a shift, they sanitize their hands, fill out a questionnaire about where they’ve been and who they’ve seen, and have their temperature taken before they set about on their day’s work.

Whidden said things are hard for the staff, too.

He said they are grateful for small things, like having masks to wear. He said Will Rogers has a stock of surgical and N95 masks in case of an outbreak. But for now, he said they are relying on knit masks with polypropylene inserts, which they received from Lindy Ellis and Gail Brill.

Whidden also said Will Rogers is a popular entertainment venue, but with no vendors allowed in, entertainers have been kept out, too.

“We’re just so looking forward for the future where we’ll be able to welcome the community back,” Whidden said.

Until then, safety comes first.

“These are some of the most cherished people in our society. They’re the people with the most experience. They’re the folks who have been serving us for all the years,” Whidden said. “Many of them have provided services — education, health care — over the years, and we want to give them our very best to protect them.”

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