Worldwide, the coronavirus pandemic has tested communities: schools, businesses, governments, and families. What seemingly started off as distant news headlines quickly hit close to home, requiring many to rise to a challenge they never foresaw. Decisions had to be made, or risk the lives of those within the community itself.
But one retirement community in the Hudson Valley has miraculously weathered this storm with zero positive resident cases of coronavirus. Woodland Pond, a continuing care retirement community in New Paltz, NY, has so far managed to keep its residents healthy and safe, even those going to and coming from the hospital.
Navigating a situation as dynamic and unpredictable as this pandemic, one that has spread the globe, and New York in particular, requires a quick, multifaceted response. And while Woodland Pond has been recognized by many for the early action at the onset of the pandemic, there’s something else within their community that has strengthened themselves and each other.
To find out exactly what Woodland Pond is all about, read the conversation below with the community’s president and CEO, Michelle Gramoglia, a Hudson Valley Magazine Women in Business winner.
What do you feel is one of the most important ways that Woodland Pond has stepped up to protect its residents?
Logistically, we put safety measures in place basically March 2. We pretty much entirely closed down the campus; we stopped communal activities. We found alternative ways to provide care, services, and social support to our residents from the first week of March. We did that unapologetically even though the state didn’t dictate that we had to do that. Our infection control team is beyond compare, and our leadership and staff have proven an ability to adapt to near daily changes.
But, I think it’s something more that has kept us virus-free. It’s much more organic than the logistical changes we made. What I really attribute it to is the true sense of community at Woodland Pond, and the commitment each person at every level — without being asked — has shown towards protecting each others’ health.
Everyone from staff to residents to families, without being asked has put the greater good of the community above their personal needs. That is remarkable. I don’t think you see that anywhere else. There’s something intrinsic about it. Everyone has put the greater good above themselves, almost across the board, and it’s really astounding.
Where do you think that is coming from?
This is the way Woodland Pond has been for the past ten years. It’s just the way this community is, I can’t really put my finger on it. Altruism at its finest.
I talk about it at new employee orientation: I tell our new staff say I would rather work with someone at Woodland Pond that has literally zero experience, a brand new RN, say, that has the best attitude and wants to be a team player. Someone that is one that people want to work with, can approach, and enjoys the company of. I’d much rather work with you, and train you, and get you training, and get you certifications, rather than an experienced nurse who has been doing it for 20 years and has every certificate in the book, but is totally unapproachable. Here, you will be measured by your attitude and approachability first. All else can come later!
That’s just the organic feeling at Woodland Pond. No one has said “It’s all about me.” No one has said “I’m scared, so I’m going to protect myself.” We have all said, “I need to put my own needs second, and the needs of my neighbor, my resident, my coworker, their family, that has to be first.” Truly, that’s not something that we can create. Each person in the community is elevating each others’ compassion for each other. No one is turning from each other and everyone is stepping up and doing what has to be done for the greater good.
The Woodland Pond staff has received so many positive reactions from the people who live there. How does it feel to get that feedback for your actions?
Well of course it feels fantastic. Why wouldn’t it?! But it is also enormously stressful. It isn’t something specific that we’re doing that we’re either going to turn on or turn off. Like I said, we’ve got all the best logistics, all the best infection control, all the PPE, but because so much of our success is coming from each of us putting each other first, if that starts to change — let’s say this thing goes on for another 6 or 8 weeks — there’s going to be a limit to how long people can really gut this out. It’s stressful.
We’re just trying right now to keep everybody’s spirits up, remind people that they’re doing a great job, and get them anything they need. We’ve made arrangements for our residents and staff to get them all their groceries, we can do all their postal service now, we’re buying and making available to them toilet paper and paper towels, we have a drug store on site. They don’t have to go anywhere if they don’t want to.. We’re just trying to make sure that they have what they need so they don’t lose faith in the process.
That’s probably why Congressman Antonio Delgado reached out to you guys to speak.
He’s been a friend to Woodland Pond for quite a while. This was clear by virtue of the fact that he gave us an hour of his time, and his people reached out to me and said, “Congressman Delgado wants to talk to your people. He wants to talk to staff, he wants to talk to residents and families and figure out if there is anything he can do to help. He wants to hear how people are making out.” That felt very special to me. It makes us feel extremely supported. Normally, seniors are marginalized.
There is something special and distinct about New Paltz, too. The feeling that we’re getting at Woodland Pond where everybody is trying to protect each other: the same thing is happening at the New Paltz level. We’re all checking in on each other: the municipality, the school district, the police department, the rescue squad. We’re getting on calls together three times a week discussing our challenges and discussing our opportunities. It has just been extremely uplifting, it’s really been something.
That’s what community is all about.
One of the things that has helped us forestall some of that feeling of isolation, despair, and distress, is that we have now a network of about 700 stakeholders; family members, residents and staff, all of whom I personally email 3-5 times a week just checking it. We let everyone know where we are and update them with weekly news and challenges.
Last week we had to start testing all of our nursing home and assisted-living staff under a NYS mandate by Governor Cuomo, which is very stressful. We’re going to have 200 employees tested twice a week; these are people that are asymptomatic. But we’re expecting that we’re going to start to see some numbers because asymptomatic people are testing positive. So, rather than waiting until we have folks testing positive and then testing people, I sent out a communication on Monday night that said, “Look, here’s what we’re facing. We’re going to have a lot of tests happening, we should be prepared for tests to be positive, let’s not be afraid. Let’s comfort each other, let’s care for each other, and let’s make sure we’re being careful.”
That kind of communication has helped forestall some of the external pressure to open the community back up. The families still know what’s going on. They can communicate with me, they can communicate with my leadership team. They have a direct line. My phone number goes right to me; I pick it up, I don’t have an executive assistant. I email 24/7 with the families and the residents. Very early on one of the things we did, which has just been wildly successful, we deputized — we called them the Delivery Deputies — a few dozen of our residents that wanted to do this. And they delivered packages to people, and hot meals, they push around carts and deliver meals door to door. They are safely masked and social distancing, but I think giving residents our role here has been absolutely instrumental.
You were talking about being transparent with people. You want to give people the power to know.
We’re not trying to hide anything. Literally, we’re making all of this information public because there’s no reason to be surprised! Check our Facebook page, you’re going to see the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s helped us for sure. It definitely helps people from being fearful of the unknown.
When things calm down a little bit, a lot of people might want to move north away from NYC to escape the pandemic. Do you think this is something Woodland Pond would welcome?
I think Woodland Pond would be a great place for anybody who’s feeling like, “It’s time for me to get out of the city.” This has probably been very eye opening for people that might, for example, live in an apartment in NYC and have realized, “Wow, I can’t get outside, I can’t get groceries. I’m alone. I can’t visit with people.” Woodland Pond at New Paltz will welcome them with open arms, and big “distanced hugs!”
You inherently have the exact opposite of that at Woodland Pond. We do everything for you, there’s a community here, a beautiful setting. We have 85 acres. We could be a very safe haven and a very welcoming haven for people in our demographic.
Approximately 25% or more of our residents initially came from NYC and have migrated to Woodland Pond. So, if anybody was to do that they would be in very good company. Our community is extraordinarily welcoming. No one is shunned. Every new resident is welcomed with open arms. It really is something. It’s not a suit-and-tie kind of place, it’s jeans and a polo, maybe a bathrobe. It’s very genuine. It really is just hard to describe.
Obviously, I love talking about Woodland Pond. It’s way more than just a job for me.
Interested in asking Woodland Pond questions of your own? Join their community on June 24 for a Virtual Resident Panel discussion to learn all about the Woodland Pond lifestyle. You’ll have the opportunity to listen to residents share their stories – from advice about planning for the future to discovering new adventures and social engagements at Woodland Pond. Ask questions and listen as they share what life is really like at Woodland Pond, including how the community has adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our residents happy, safe, and healthy!
RSVP here for yourself and a guest, or call 845.256.5520
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