For many elderly people the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most challenging times in recent memory, but it was during this crisis that the heart of Courtlands Village in North Parramatta shone the brightest.
Along with the rest of Sydney, residents at the North Parramatta retirement village were plunged into lockdowns and faced restrictions on their movements throughout the year.
The restrictions turned the once bustling Village Centre into a ghost town as residents who usually met there for coffee, morning tea or other activities were required to stay in their homes.
This made it much more difficult for the Courtlands Village team to know how residents were faring day-to-day, which became increasingly important during this time of isolation.
Village Manager Lisa Green, along with Well-Being Coordinator Sherene Noble and Kristen Zammit in administration, worked closely with the Residents’ Committee to keep in touch with the 122 residents over the course of the year to ensure they regularly reached out to each and every person and provided support where needed.
“It’s been a difficult year with COVID, but living in a retirement village was really the best place for a lot of elderly people, because they had the support and team here,” Lisa said.
The small kiosk that runs from the Village Centre became a lifeline for many of the residents who were unable to get to the shops regularly, and coordinator Shirely Johnson went out of her way to find out what residents needed and kept it in stock.
The Village Resident Committee divided up the residents among its members and rang them every day, and then let Lisa and the team know if there were any issues.
This included the new residents who moved to Courtlands Village from Westcourt in Westmead, after the property was sold in 2020.
Every single resident at the Village is now vaccinated, thanks to the efforts from Lisa and her team who coordinated with doctors to ensure they had easy access to the vaccine.
“That was a really big issue, not being able to get to doctors or having to wait a long time for appointments,” Lisa said.
“We worked with a couple of the doctors to do a vaccination clinic here. During the first round we took residents to the doctor’s surgery to have the vaccine, and then by the second round of lockdowns they had access to the vaccines here.”
There were a few people who were slightly hesitant in the early days, but once they realised everyone else had been vaccinated that encouraged them to get it done.
A number of residents with medical conditions were not able to have the Astrazeneca vaccine, so needed to get the Pfizer shot instead, which meant they had to wait because the Village was not classed as an essential service.
Unfortunately, this led to one resident testing positive for COVID a few days before they were due to receive their Pfizer vaccine.
“We arranged for all her meals as their family couldn’t come as they were isolating too. We spoke with her probably four or five times a day, with the last call at 9pm at night to make sure she was all right,” Lisa said.
They coordinated with the Public Health Unit at Westmead who also conducted daily checks on her, and arranged for daily temperature checks and other services like rubbish removal to ensure the resident was as comfortable as possible.
Lisa worked as a nurse at Courtlands before becoming Village Manager, and utlised these skills during the lockdowns to help residents who had difficulty accessing their general practitioner.
She took photos of ailments or blood pressure readings and sent them to the residents’ doctors, who would liaise directly with the pharmacy to have medications delivered.
“So residents weren’t sitting back and thinking ‘well I can’t get to the doctor I won’t worry’, we made a point of making sure that the doctors could still see what was happening with a lot of residents,” Lisa said.
“I think we would have had a lot more issues with residents if that hadn’t been done.”
In a way the pandemic has strengthened some connections between residents and their families, as the use of video calls meant they were in touch with their loved ones more often than before the lockdowns.
“I had quite a few residents actually say to me they have their family Zoom meetings,” Lisa said.
“One would actually have a weekly church service with their family. Another resident had Friday night dinner with family, so they would all have their meals ready and sit down together to eat. Another one had happy hour on Zoom.”
Many residents are actually more active now, and participate in Sherene’s walking groups or potter in their gardens.
As lockdown ended and restrictions eased towards the end of the year, the camaraderie forged in the midst of the pandemic continued.
“The pandemic strengthened the deep sense of community spirit that has always made Courtlands Village an incredibly supportive retirement option,” Lisa said.