Hebrew SeniorLife Transforms Programming to Improve Seniors’ Quality of Life During Pandemic

COVID-19 Challenges All the Norms

BOSTON – Harvard Medical School Affiliate Hebrew SeniorLife (HSL), a nonprofit organization committed to improving the lives of older adults, has reinvented how its residents and patients across the organization’s senior living communities and health care campuses can enjoy their pre-COVID-19 program engagements and connect with others during the pandemic.

For seniors who have been self-sheltering at home in HSL’s five senior living communities in Brookline, Canton, Dedham, Randolph, and Revere, their family connections and social networks are maintained by phone and the swift embrace of videoconference systems, like Zoom. And thanks to HSL’s technological capabilities and its creative Community Life Staff, residents are offered innovative virtual programming to fill their calendars. 

Physical exercise, meditation, book clubs, knitting and photography groups, concerts, stimulating discussion groups, and entertainment delivered by closed-circuit TV, Zoom, and phone provide all day engagement. Music therapists play live music in the common spaces. Particularly enjoyable and “a huge hit” are open air sing-alongs that reach residents from campus grounds to their open windows and terraces, including those that took place this past week at Center Communities of Brookline’s three locations in Brookline, on the campus of NewBridge on the Charles in Dedham, and at the Simon C. Fireman Community in Randolph, according to Lynda Bussgang, Director of Multigenerational Programming at Hebrew SeniorLife, who organizes these programs. 

“Every one of our 1,700 senior living residents is experiencing this challenging time with daily highs and lows, and one thing that really helps increase the highs is music,” Bussgang said following a recent sing-along. “Music is a beautiful way to engage our seniors, whether it’s through technology or through live music outside their windows.”

Residents and adult children are particularly appreciative of the many opportunities that help create connections. A NewBridge on the Charles resident commented on Executive Director Steve Colwell’s special talents when he performed via the community’s closed-circuit channel.

“Your TV debut was extremely enjoyable. I’d heard you play piano, but who knew you had such a fine singing voice. And we should add that the Community Life department’s various offerings on channel 918 have been more than should be expected,” the resident noted. 

For HSL seniors at Hebrew Rehabilitation Center (HRC) in Roslindale and Dedham, the long-term chronic care hospital’s Life Enhancement staff, along with redeployed staff from across the organization, maintain daily programming through a variety of creative methods that are all 1:1 patient to staff, including friendly visits, video chats with family, arts and crafts, and music via tablets. And through the use of technology, video links of the performers who patients have come to know and love are shown on a closed-circuit TV channel, as are weekly Shabbat and biweekly Christian programs and services.

“Our programming goal during the COVID-19 outbreak is to maintain our patients’ quality of life and the pre-virus ‘norms’ as much as possible with regular concerts, religious services, family connections, and televised entertainment,” said Mary Moscato, President of Hebrew SeniorLife Health Care Services and Hebrew Rehabilitation Center. “We reinvented the delivery of the programs our patients have come to expect in ways that keep them safe and engaged, using the advanced technology we have at hand and leveraging the creativity of so many of our staff.”

Since HSL’s no visitation policy went into effect in March, adult children have expressed their gratitude for the regular video chats with their loved ones, thanks to the 1:1 programming at HRC. In an email to staff, a family member said, “I want to express my gratitude for the video call I had this morning with my mom to tell her Happy 85th Birthday!”

About Hebrew SeniorLife
Hebrew SeniorLife is a national senior services leader dedicated to rethinking, researching, and redefining the possibilities of aging. As New England’s largest nonprofit provider of senior health care and living communities, and the only one affiliated with Harvard Medical School, HSL cares for more than 3000 seniors a day across six campuses throughout Greater Boston. Our locations include: Hebrew Rehabilitation Center, Boston and Dedham; NewBridge on the Charles, Dedham; Orchard Cove, Canton; Simon C. Fireman Community, Randolph; Center Communities of Brookline, Brookline; and Jack Satter House, Revere. Founded in 1903, HSL also conducts influential research into aging and trains more than 1,000 students in geriatric care each year. Visit https://www.hebrewseniorlife.org, follow us on Twitter @H_SeniorLife, like us on Facebook, or read our blog.