15 months, no instances: How a Saskatoon retirement residence saved COVID-19 out

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Preston Park 1 has not recorded a single care of the virus since March 2020 and 100 per cent of staff and residents are vaccinated.

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Zak Vescera Preston Park Retirement Residence I office manager Joann Lee, activities director Meghan Arnault, and executive director Jodi Gronsdahl (left to right) sit with dog Scrubs. Preston Park Retirement Residence I office manager Joann Lee, activities director Meghan Arnault, and executive director Jodi Gronsdahl (left to right) sit with dog Scrubs. Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

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A Saskatoon retirement home beat the odds to keep COVID-19 out of the building.

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Preston Park 1 has not recorded a single case of the virus since March 2020, and a staggering 100 per cent of its residents and staff are vaccinated.

Senior executive director Jodi Gronsdahl is not declaring victory, but said the home’s residents and staff deserve credit for dodging COVID-19 for more than a year.

“I think for the residents, when we announced COVID was real, they took it very seriously,” Gronsdahl said.

“They have lived through world wars and personal losses. So I think they were prepared to cooperate, be responsible and do their part.”

Preston Park, like many seniors’ housing complexes, has spent more than a year on high alert. Its parent company mandated the use of face masks in March 2020, well before it was the law in Saskatchewan, and restricted family visitations to the bare minimum.

“We took it seriously,” office manager Joann Lee recalled. “This is real. This is not a joke.”

The Preston Park 1 team sit near the retirement residence on a warm June afternoon The Preston Park 1 team sit near the retirement residence on a warm June afternoon Photo by Matt Smith /Saskatoon StarPhoenix

The retirement complex offers hotel-style amenities to its 185 tenants. COVID-19 changed everything, from the meal plan to where residents could go to the special events that punctuated everyday life.

Activities director Meghan Arnault normally hosted events that brought people together. She had to quickly figure out how to do the same thing while remaining physically apart, including door-to-door dance parties to lighten the mood.

On Halloween, they threw jack o’lanterns from a balcony and smashed them with hammers.

“It was an energy-releasing activity,” Gronsdahl said.

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It was a year defined by sacrifice. Residents could not see their families for occasions like Christmas, Easter or the New Year, and staff followed suit. Gronsdahl remembers long nights of work on weekends and evenings with the rest of her team, accompanied by Scrubs, her faithful 14-year-old poodle crossbreed.

“I think the workload was large, and it was stressful. Part of that stress came from our commitment not to see our families, not to celebrate Easter and Christmas and birthdays,” Gronsdahl said. “The same protocols we asked residents to follow, staff followed as well.”

Life is getting back to normal at Preston Park, thanks in part to a perfect 100 per cent vaccination rate. Staff drove residents to clinics to get their shots, putting photos on a “wall of awesome” inside the home. The Saskatchewan Health Authority twice sent a mobile vaccination team, allowing residents to get the shot right at home.

They can now visit family and friends outside the home for long-delayed dinners, reunions and special events, but indoor visits remain restricted.

Gronsdahl said on Monday that she hopes to offer more guidance on that soon, but Preston Park will move cautiously into reopening, even as the province gets ready to drop its remaining public health interventions on July 11.

“I think the buy-in of the staff and the kind, repetitive, calm diligence really is the key,” Gronsdahl said.

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