According to the Centers for Disease Control, people over 65 years of age are more susceptible to contracting and dying from COVID-19. In fact, in 2020, 80% of the more than 500,000 COVID related deaths in the United States occurred in people 65 years and older.
In 2020, Lutheran Towers Retirement Community was the home to 203 very low-income elderly persons many of whom were/are struggling with chronic physical health challenges such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cancer all of which served to cause our residents to be more susceptible to contracting and dying from the new coronavirus (COVID-19) sweeping across the globe.
As reported, across our nation, countless retirement communities experienced a high number of COVID-19 cases as well as a notable number of COVID related deaths. However, Lutheran Towers did not experience a high number of COVID-19 cases nor any COVID-19 related deaths.
Early in pandemic, to ensure the health and well-being of all that live in and work at the Lutheran Towers Retirement Community, we notably modified Lutheran Towers’ operating policies, procedures, and practices to significantly mitigate the risk of contraction of the virus by residents, their caregivers, and our staff, within our retirement community. These early and holistic research-based disease prevention strategies were wildly successful within our senior community as best demonstrated by our COVID-19 related numbers.
In keeping with sound public health practices, in March 2020, we closed our building to all nonessential visitors. We mandated mask wearing in all common areas. Throughout 2020, we disseminated personal protective equipment to residents, their essential visitors, and essential staff. We installed air purifiers in the common areas and staff offices. In 2020, we disseminated over 1,500 face masks to residents, their essential visitors, and essential staff.
When vaccines became available, our staff helped residents to schedule vaccination appointments. Our employees worked diligently to ensure that there would not an outbreak in our senior community. Our early, holistic, and research- based disease prevention strategies were wildly successful within our senior community. We were successful in keeping an outbreak from occurring in our senior community.
To help our residents stay safe from contracting COVID-19 and well-fed, in March 2020, in partnership with Redeemer Lutheran Church and Fulton County Senior Services, we launched a new Monday through Friday free on-site lunch program. This was our fifth and most comprehensive free on-site feeding program for Lutheran Towers’ residents. In 2020, because of the support of our donors and community partners, for the first time in our history, we disseminated more than 70,000 pounds of free food to our residents.
For Lutheran Towers, 2020 was a transformative year where no aspect of our operations was left untouched. When many organizations across the world were curtailing programs and services, with the overarching goal of improving the lives of our residents in a meaningful and lasting manner, amid the pandemic, with the use of technology, Lutheran Towers was able to: expand our supportive services, wellness programs, community partnerships, as well as recreational programs in 2020.
As a direct result of our growth in the number of strategic community partners, in 2020, we gained the capacity to disseminate 70,000 pounds of free food up from 20,000 pounds in 2019.Additonally, last year, Lutheran Towers disseminated 16,500 free meals to residents up from 929 free meals in 2019. In 2020, Lutheran Towers also engaged in agency-wide capacity-building in the areas of disease prevention and intervention. Further, we made notable capital improvements throughout residential portions of our building without event. It is also important to note, in 2020, we experienced record setting net profits, grant awards, and individual donations.
Our COVID-19 Related Program
Service Delivery Model Shift
A recent study published in The Journals of Gerontology (2021), found that older adults experienced disproportionately greater adverse effects from the pandemic including more severe complications, higher mortality, concerns about disruptions to their daily routines and access to care, difficulty in adapting to technologies like telemedicine, and concerns that isolation would exacerbate existing mental health conditions.
To address the afore-mentioned research-based concerns in the older adult population related to COVID-19, Lutheran Towers Supportive Services Department had to shift the service delivery model to support residents during this time. Towards that end, the service delivery model moved from the standard HUD mandated service delivery model which is an intervention model to a social science research-driven prevention focused service delivery model.
Towards that end, at the beginning of the pandemic through the present time, our Supportive Services Department has conducted weekly wellness calls to residents to inform them of the current food distribution programs, activities, and other services being offered to residents during this time. These programs that are most important to the residents’ health and wellbeing were held while practicing the CDC guidelines such as social distancing, wearing masks, and gloves.
Our organization also supported residents with the following COVID-19 education & resources, resident outreach & wellness checks, supportive individual counseling, personal protective equipment distribution and quarantine support.
Expansion of our On-Site Free Feeding Programs:
In 2020, Lutheran Towers expanded the onsite feeding programs to ensure that all residents had easy and safe access to food in the pandemic. Towards that end, we have partnered with several organizations to include Lutheran Church of the Redeemer’s Food Ministry, Meals on Wheels of Atlanta (MOW), Fulton County Senior Services, Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB), Second Helpings Atlanta, and Gilliam’s Farm.
Lutheran Towers Free Feeding Programs
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer’s Food Recovery and Reclamation Program
We continue to offer residents a weekly food reclamation program in partnership with Redeemer Lutheran Church and local grocery stores. This program is available every Tuesday for residents to add to their weekly household food supply. This program is executed practicing the CDC guidelines such as social distancing, limited number of residents in the area, wearing masks, and gloves as needed (average 70 participants weekly).
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer Weekday Free Lunch Program
Throughout the pandemic, Redeemer has provided the seniors of Lutheran Towers with 40 bagged lunches per day (Monday - Friday). This program started in March 2020 and continues to be an ongoing program. A total of 20,000 lbs. were distributed to our seniors in 2020.
Lutheran Towers Food Pantry
Lutheran Towers partners with the Atlanta Community Food Bank to maintain our on-site food pantry. Since the establishment of our pantry in 2018, it has allowed and continues to allow our residents in need ready on-site access to nutritious food. This partnership is the first of its kind among the Metro- Atlanta non-profit senior housing communities. In the wake of the COVID-19 virus, the pantry has also been continuously stocked with frozen meals to address the needs of all residents and their ability to prepare food.
Project HOPE (Helping Older People Eat Healthier)
Project HOPE provides residents with fresh food vouchers in the amount of $100 per resident. Issued in the form of a paper value voucher Lutheran Towers has partnered with a local farmer to offer monthly fresh produce market days. Vouchers are in increments of $20.00 and distributed to residents that have signed up to participate in the Project HOPE program. Each Market Day the residents receive FDA approved nutrition hand-outs to address healthy eating and proper nutrition. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lutheran Towers had to modify the distribution process for market day. Our community vendor Gilliam’s Farm pre-bagged the produce and the Lutheran Towers staff distributed the bags as needed.
Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
Residents receive monthly commodity food boxes (CSFP). The boxes are provided with federal funding and aimed at supplementing the monthly food supply for low-income seniors. Lutheran Towers current monthly allotment is 40 CSFP boxes. This program distribution is approximately 1,200 lbs. monthly.
Second Helpings Food Reclamation Program
Lutheran Towers partnered with Second Helpings Atlanta to continue offering a diverse food program to the residents. In partnership with, this new strategic partner, food reclamation program, in 2020, we distributed approximately 1,000 lbs.
Monthly Newsletter & Weekly Activity Books
Lutheran Towers continues to distribute the Tower Talk newsletter to residents to communicate to them the activities and programs for the month. Due to the need to engage in social distancing, our Life Enrichment Coordinator created a weekly activity book in addition to the monthly newsletter a to reduce the isolation and boredom associated with COVID-19 social distancing and self-quarantine. These weekly activity books promoted brain health through cross word puzzles, trivia questions, adult coloring pages, and so much more.
Lutheran Towers was able to get creative and offer Virtual Bingo, Virtual Zumba, Virtual Art Class, Weekly Virtual Fitness classes and weekly virtual tea and conversations (24 average participants).
We utilized technology to engage residents and keep them informed during the pandemic. Vital information was shared on our in-house digital signage boards on each floor as well as calls and text messages sent out via our Voice Friend communication program. The Supportive Services department is now working to enhance the use of technology with distribution of 30 iPads and an in-house cable TV channel.
Weekly Essential Grocery Trips
Essential grocery trips took place two days per week to Kroger and Publix. These trips were conducted during the senior/vulnerable population hours designated by each store. The Lutheran Towers van was cleaned and sanitized before and after all trips. While on trips residents wore masks and practiced social distancing while on the van. In addition, the van was cleaned and sanitized by staff while residents shopped.
Our Community Partnerships
Community partnerships are vital to the work that we continue to do at Lutheran Towers. In 2020, Lutheran Towers was able to work with several community partners to ensure that our residents were able to thrive even during the pandemic. The following list reflects community partnerships and their contributions to Lutheran Towers.
Lutheran Church of the Redeemer- Daily Meal Program & Tuesday Market
Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB)- On-site Food Pantry, Monthly Commodity Box & Crisis Response Capacity Grant
A Wholistic Approach LLC. - Support Counseling & Emotional Support
City of Atlanta Mayor’s Office of Constituent Services- PPE Supplies
Dunwoody’s Women Club- Holiday Presents for residents
First Presbyterian Church- Sponsor Meals on Wheels (MOW)
Fulton County Senior Services- Daily Meal Program
Georgia Power- Hosted Activities and Donated to the On-Site Food Pantry
Gilliam’s Farm- Project HOPE Food Program
Hands Across the Bridge- Hosted Activities
Second Helpings Atlanta- Food Reclamation Program
Senior’s First of Georgia- Transportation Services
SMAHA Atlanta Organization: Sewing mask for area hospitals of Atlanta- PPE.
United Way- Emergency Food and Shelter Program (EFSP) grant for Project HOPE and On-site Food Pantry
On-Site COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic
Lutheran Towers partnered with Briarcliff Pharmacy to conduct the first COVID-19 Vaccine clinic at Lutheran Towers. The Supportive Services department has been able to assist residents in signing up and completing the necessary consent paperwork. The first clinic was held on March 8th and the second vaccine clinic took place on April 9th and there were approximately 81 residents that received the vaccine