By Alexander Germanis
Written by King Solomon and later shared in a fable by Aesop was a proverb about the strength found in numbers and unity. The object lesson illustrated how easily a single stick is broken, but how many sticks bundled together become unbreakable.
Over the last couple of years few places have been hit harder by the pandemic than retirement communities. But at Proctor Place in Peoria, the residents and staff of their community came together in such a way as to fortify one another and emerge a stronger community than ever before.
Truthfully, the very act of coming together was made somewhat difficult in the last couple years. With government mandated lockdowns and a dearth of viable knowledge regarding the spreading sickness, those at Proctor Place found they had to rely more and more on each other to carry through.
Refusing to sever contact with loved ones was the first and perhaps most important move to remain strong, says Proctor Place President and CEO Donna Malone. “We believe that personal visits are very, very important. And for our residents, this is their home, so if they wanted to see each other and their family members, we were going to bend over backward to make sure that still happened.”
Of course, Proctor Place took all necessary precautions with visits, limiting those who entered the grounds to families and necessary contractors. In fact, construction company PJ Hoerr was brought in specifically to implement some changes to certain walkways and create glass-screened areas and high-concentration filtration systems to allow for visits with loved ones.
“We were not going to keep people away from each other if there were changes we could make to allow them to see each other,” Donna insists. “I think other places look back and realized isolation can cause as much harm as COVID.”
Forced isolation protocols encouraged Donna and her staff to find interesting ways to keep people happy. For instance, closing the dining room led to discovering some hidden talents of the staff members who found alternative ways to serve. “When the residents came to get their meals, we had a server who played the piano, our facilities manager sang and played the guitar, and we had another server who also had a wonderful singing voice,” Donna recalls. “As a result, the residents didn’t feel quite so isolated. And it was nice for our employees to feel they were doing more to help.”
One of the advantages of living at Proctor Place is its size. While large enough to offer many amenities and activities, it still presents a pleasant small neighborhood feel. With only 150–175 residents spread over three independent living neighborhoods and nursing care, it’s easy to get to know people, feel comfortable going to activities and events, and not feel overwhelmed by sheer numbers. “Keeping people active makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to staying independent as long as possible,” Donna says. “That means being able to go to exercise classes twice a day, easy yoga classes, and other activities. And you don’t have to worry about walking into a room of 50 people in one class.”
Other activities like Puzzle Days encourage not only movement but interactivity as well. “We have a giant puzzle and everyone—employees and residents—work together,” Donna describes. “A few employees and few residents who don’t necessarily pass each other every day—say a few nurses from healthcare and some residents from an independent living area—can end up working together and getting to know one another more personally.”
Game days also allow interplay among the Proctor extended family. “You’ll see an employee playing and a resident cheering them on and vice versa. These activities have really helped the atmosphere stay even more positive.”
“If you live here, you’re going to have neighbors with health challenges,” Donna candidly states. “Sometimes a positive attitude is the biggest thing to pull you through. If you’re not that person going through those challenges, but you’re helping the person who is, when it comes time for you to need help others will be there for you. And through it all we are there for everyone. It’s about collectively taking care of each other.”
It’s no secret your attitude impacts your overall health. Good morale, especially during trying times, can go a long way in getting one through those times. “Sometimes overall wellness begins mentally before it does physically,” Donna confirms.
A good attitude is also contagious, which is why Proctor Place has days committed to building positivity. Happy to Help Days and Charity Days are simply about putting other’s needs before your own. “Sometimes it’s easier to deal with your own challenges and problems if you’re really focused on someone else,” says Donna. “It’s not one large answer to staying positive; it’s one hundred different little things done in a month where you can truly see people doing better.”
Showing gratitude goes a long way in maintaining a positive air, and it can take many forms. Being grateful their home was not hit by the pandemic as badly as other places is truly something for which to be thankful. In the same vein, all those at Proctor Place are grateful for all the good things that came from enduring COVID. “It helped us remember all the things that truly matter in life: those small visits and friendships, having lunch with one another,” says Donna. “We need to focus on what we’ve gained.”
As most of the residents are from the generations that still understand the power of a simple thank you card, Donna has created Thank You Card Days, where those cards are available at the front desk and nurses’ station. “Suddenly you’ve got 75 people handing out thank you cards in a day to employees and other residents,” Donna laughs. “It makes a huge difference in the atmosphere and the environment.
There are other ways to show gratitude, of course. Proctor Place would be nothing without the employees who call Proctor Place their work home, and they were shown gratitude in arguably the best way possible: a significant pay bump. Every hourly employee saw a permanent raise to their hourly wage starting almost immediately after the pandemic began.
“For many years now, our motto has been: It’s simply better here,” Donna declares. “We truly believe that, so it was our time to go to our employees and say we know things have been tougher, so we are going to be better. The employees are the key to our success.”
From the waxing days of the pandemic to the current month, many places suffered losses in employee numbers. Whether due to the sickness directly, forced government mandates, or a disincentivized workforce, many places are still not up to full staff.
Proctor Place is a proud exception to this. In fact, even at the height of the pandemic, they added staff. Nursing staff is something a retirement home cannot be without and if they were going to lose a nurse to quarantine, Donna knew it was crucial to not keep that position vacant. Yet not one employee lost their job during or after the lockdowns.
In some cases, keeping the staff simply meant a job shift. “We found other things for them to do, making sure those things added to the quality of life for the residents,” she explains. “When we were forced to close our dining rooms, servers became entertainers or focused on additional cleaning because their jobs were temporarily not available. And the housekeepers did a phenomenal job of cleaning beyond anything ever imaginable.”
One of the main reasons Donna feels Proctor managed so well over the past couple years is due to their size. Proctor being such a manageable size helped, as did the tenured team members who consider Proctor Place more than a job, more than a career. They consider it family.
Making a move to a retirement community is not an easy one. In fact, it can be the most difficult move one makes in life. Therefore, it must be done for all the right reasons: to be surrounded by friends and those who can help when things get difficult. It’s a move that must be to a place where the strength you gain will not only help you weather the storms of life but a place where your strength can help others. Proctor Place is that place.
“Proctor Place was started over 100 years ago,” Donna proclaims. “We’ve got quite a legacy to carry on. We all know how important it is to take care of people and it’s about a lot more than just trying to be like every other home out there. It’s about helping you have a happy, successful, wonderful life. No matter if you’re using a walker, or you no longer have a driver’s license – no matter the challenge, we’re here to help you hold onto that happiness.”
Proctor Place is located at 2724 West Reservoir Boulevard in Peoria, Illinois. If you would like to take a tour of your new home or if you have any questions, please call us at (309) 316-3690. Or visit us on the web at www.proctorplace.org.
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