Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility A luxury Woodlands senior community went ‘above and beyond.’ Why did 3 people die from COVID-19? | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors – Active Lifestyle Media

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Senior Living CommunitiesA luxury Woodlands senior community went ‘above and beyond.’ Why did 3 people die from COVID-19? | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors

A luxury Woodlands senior community went ‘above and beyond.’ Why did 3 people die from COVID-19? | #seniorliving | #elderly | #seniors


The news added to a growing sense of dread: A third elderly man who lived in a luxury apartment community for seniors in The Woodlands died Wednesday after testing positive for COVID-19.

Almost two weeks earlier, Montgomery County officials had learned a first resident at the complex had the new coronavirus. With 10 more known to be infected, the Conservatory at Alden Bridge now faced a nightmarish crisis.

Nursing homes have for weeks been at the forefront of concern for spread of the virus among a vulnerable population, prompting bans on visitation and activities. Independent living communities such as the Conservatory slipped through regulatory cracks.

And while Montgomery County officials moved to contain any spread of the virus after the first case was identified, it may have been too late for the complex. The three elderly men who lived there died within days of County Judge Mark Keough issuing a shelter-in-place order for the complex on Monday.

“Individuals can be asymptomatic for quite some time and be contagious,” said Jason Millsaps, who heads the county’s emergency management office. “They had all been having dinner together, going to afternoon activities at this facility together for weeks.”

The Conservatory is one of a dozen senior communities in Texas operated by Florida-based Discovery Senior Living. While some offer assisted living and memory care, the Conservatory is a place where residents can basically come and go as they please and the management focuses on services such as meals and activities.

“Conservatory offers the best value in affordable, care-free, independent senior living,” the complex says on its website. “Everything we do is focused on providing you the very best in senior living.”

Then life began to change at many retirement communities. On March 13, state and federal authorities restricted visitors to and ended group activities and communal dining in nursing homes. The Conservatory, however, is considered an “independent living facility” — and so did not have to follow those rules.

Not until March 17 did the Conservatory say it was implementing protocols for group dining. They did not end it, but instead took away the “high-touch” salt-and-pepper shakers and encouraged social distancing at tables.

Discovery Senior Living also limited the frequency of group activities, according to a March 18 brochure, turning to outdoor options and bus rides where residents sat spread apart.

Nursing homes across the nation and state had seen horrifying, fast spread of cases. One in Kirkland, Wash., foreshadowed the potential danger, with more than 20 deaths linked to spread of the coronavirus there.

In Harris County, a man who lived in a nursing home died in March. In San Antonio, 66 of 84 residents of a nursing home were known Thursday to be infected. One had died. And 13 residents and employees in a Texas City nursing home also tested positive.

But for the Conservatory of Alden Bridge, there was a sort of catch-22. While nursing homes provide around-the-clock medical care, independent-living communities focus on allowing residents autonomy.

At the Conservatory, where 235 people lived, the lack of enforceable rules may have had tragic consequences.

Some, such as Marie Hemphill, decided to leave early on. Hemphill’s son was worried about her being around so many people. She has leukemia and is 91. So she moved March 11 to a family beach house in Port O’Connor.

Her granddaughter, Angela Hemphill, 45, said she had been impressed by how the facility tried to keep residents safe but knew those efforts only went so far.

“I really feel they went out of their way, above and beyond,” Hemphill said. “There’s only so much you can do when it comes to a virus.”

For those who stayed, the facility in ways offered an easy place for a virus to spread, and cause great harm.

The March community calendar was packed. Sundays brought a morning worship service, afternoon bingo and an evening movie. Other days offered planned bridge groups, line dancing and poker games.

A first case was identified there on March 20. An epidemiologist called the apartment complex’s management the same day, said Misti Willingham, public information officer for the county’s hospital district.

The epidemiologist told them to stop communal activities. They suggested residents stay in their own apartments, not allow visitors and take their temperatures twice a day.

“This complex is geared toward people 55 and older and a lot of the cases were seeing are in their 80s and 90s,” Willingham said. “Unfortunately, they are very high risk.”

At 5 p.m. that day, the facility posted on Facebook they would bar visitors — the state had now required this in retirement communities, they said, a full week after it did so in nursing homes.

The public health district sent employees to screen residents, looking for those who qualified for testing, Millsaps said.


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