Unity & Resilience: Supporting Senior Residents in Uncertain Times

Beyond building and managing affordable housing, BHC delivers an array of free resident support services, reflecting our longstanding commitment to improving the economic, academic and health outcomes of the families and seniors who call a BHC rental community home. As an example, our seniors benefit from social, health and wellness activities that allow them to age in place longer, with a better quality of life. Some of our seniors have lived in a BHC community for 20 years or longer!

Members of BHC’s resident services team have worked hard over the years to develop strong relationships with our residents, usually meeting onsite and in person to evaluate needs, recommend a course of action, and follow up. Since the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve had to discontinue in-person visits, special events, and counseling sessions. We’ve also had to close off community rooms and common areas where residents often congregate and enjoy activities. This has been hardest on those who need these services and amenities the most. As the pandemic wears on, we are concerned about the potential long-term effects of isolation associated with stay-at-home orders, and have observed that some residents seem to be drifting out of reach, more specifically at our senior properties where the effects of isolation are most keenly felt.

Long-Term Effects of Stress
Senior Services Coordinator Alma Whitfield explains that this withdrawal symptom could be “from a combination of different things, a major one being a trauma response to the COVID-19 pandemic.” This trauma has surely only intensified over the past few weeks by the civil unrest and social justice events unfolding around the world, ignited by the viral video of George Floyd’s shocking death in Minneapolis.

“With fear, uncertainty, anxiety, isolation, and loss impacting everyone right now I think our residents are likely experiencing something they may not be able to verbalize,” Alma said. “When one experiences a traumatic event, the brain can’t cope as it would under normal circumstances, and it goes into survival mode, sending a stress response throughout the body. Over time, high levels of stress cause detrimental effects, and can play out in a variety of ways, such as increased agitation, mood swings, obsessiveness, depression, becoming withdrawn from others — the list goes on. People become someone different than they would normally identify with, and if left unchecked, these behaviors spill over into unhealthy lifestyles.”

Delivering Resident Services in a Pandemic
While social distancing restrictions pose major challenges in service delivery, connecting with other humans is critical in times of upheaval. In response, the resident services team has found creative ways to keep in touch and connect residents with the resources they need:

  • In April, BHC staff conducted a comprehensive resident survey by telephone, calling each household to assess the needs of those living in our communities. The survey results identified households experiencing job loss or reduction of income, those needing help applying for assistance programs, and those simply desiring to maintain regular check-ins with our staff. More than 1,200 responses were received, reflecting the level of trust that residents have in sharing sensitive information with BHC staff. In addition to providing a snapshot of how each household is faring, the survey results are helping to shape the next wave of services BHC is developing to help residents regain footing and recover physically and financially, once the threat of the pandemic is lifted.
  • For those who indicated the desire for periodic check-ins, our Resident Services team members began calling residents on a rotating basis. This is no small feat, as we have about 1,000 senior residents living in our age-restricted communities! To augment these phone calls, we implemented a “Pen Pals” volunteer program to foster connections between residents and the greater Richmond community. Residents who opt in to the program are matched with a volunteer who mails an encouraging note, drawing, or letter.
  • BHC social workers are also working on a new video series called “Coffee Chats” to connect virtually with our residents, and simulate an in-person interaction. During these five-minute videos, presenters share tips, resources, reminders and good news with our residents to boost interpersonal connections. New videos are launched each Friday in June. Click the video below to view the first one of the series.

Though we continue to work and live apart, BHC staff is unified in finding ways to work together to promote unity and community. Support from our donors and funding partners like NeighborWorks helps us execute our mission: to change lives and transform communities through high-quality, affordable housing.

As a member of the national NeighborWorks network, BHC celebrates NeighborWorks Week and its timely theme this year of Unity and Resilience.  NeighborWorks week is held each year in early June, and showcases how the network of 240+ NeighborWorks members strengthens communities and celebrates our collective impact across the nation. In more normal times, the week is typically celebrated with a series of community events. This year, public events are difficult to execute safely. Therefore, we’re celebrating NeighborWorks Week virtually via our blog and social media outlets. With this blog post, we illustrate how BHC’s resident services team is responding during this time of stay-home orders to engage and serve our senior residents.