Percy Poindexter

Twice a week for the past two years, Percy Poindexter boarded a shuttle that took him to St. Ann Adult Day Services in southwest Baltimore, where the 72-year-old spent the day receiving catered meals, personalized medical services, and opportunities to join in on exercise, arts and crafts, and other group activities. In mid-March, however, amid concerns about the coronavirus, St. Ann closed temporarily, bringing Percy’s routine to a sudden and unwelcome halt.

“He can’t wait to get back and for this to all be over,” said Shirley Brown, Percy’s sister, who cares for him at her home. “He loves going there.”

The feeling is mutual, said Program Director Cherie Melton, explaining that “the 55 participants are like family to staff members.” And, as they would with family members, staff are finding ways to reach out to the participants, who are seniors and adults who cannot stay home alone for health or safety reasons.

Seniors in the St. Ann program represent a particularly vulnerable population. In mid-April, Maryland Department of Health data showed people over 60 represented nearly 32 percent of the state’s coronavirus cases, and nearly 88 percent of deaths when information on the patient’s age was available. Across the country, programs for older adults have closed while residential facilities instituted significant restrictions in response to the pandemic.

Unable to provide direct care, St. Ann staff have been calling participants’ homes to check on their well-being, and sending out care packets that include a few of the daily activities they may be missing while away from the program.

Shortly after the facility closed, St. Ann colleagues mailed the first batch of packets, which included a variety of crossword puzzles, fill-in-the-blank pages, coloring books, word searches, and other cognitive challenges and games. A few weeks later, staff added Easter activities to the second batch to brighten the holiday.

Many families are struggling to balance interaction with older loved ones, while protecting them from the virus. Even St. Ann program participants who live with family members have found the break in their normal routines to be jarring.

“He really misses them,” Shirley said of her brother’s relationship with St. Ann staff. “The packets are a welcome treat because it gives him something to do while I tend to other things in the house.”