When COVID-19 arrived in Western New York in spring 2020, the pandemic raised fears about vulnerabilities for the elderly, but St. Francis Park, a Catholic Health independent senior living campus in Hamburg, has proven resilient.

The facility has largely been able to keep the virus at bay, with only four positive cases among its independent living residents over the course of the year. That number is lower than the national average of .4 percent reported by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care (NIC).

Joanna Mach was new to her position as director of St. Francis Park when coronavirus reared its ugly head last year.  But, the 16-year veteran of Catholic Health was able to employ a variety of best practices from senior care facilities, hotels, restaurants and grocery chains to revamp the senior living community to ensure a continued positive and safe experience for its nearly 50 residents.

Living at St. Francis Park

Opened in 2018, St. Francis Park’s first residents were the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph, who lived there when it was the Immaculate Conception Convent. In addition, the campus welcomes men and women aged 65 and older from all walks of life looking for an alternative to home ownership.

In November 2020, Catholic Health added a one-of-a-kind Enriched Housing Program for new and existing residents at St. Francis Park. Through the Enriched Housing Program, residents can continue to enjoy the lifestyle and amenities of independent living, with caring, daily assistance tailored to their individual needs. Services include medication management, assistance with bathing and dressing, laundry and housekeeping, prepared meals and snacks, medical appointment transportation, case management services, and organized activities.

“Our residents chose us for a reason. We worked hard and thought outside of the box to maintain as much normalcy as possible while protecting this vulnerable population,” said Mach. “We have focused not just on safety, but on maintaining the vibrancy of communal life for our residents with opportunities for meaningful social engagement, structured exercise and a full dining program.”

Changes implemented in response to COVID-19 included:

  • Rearranging the layout of community dining rooms to ensure social distancing.
  • Changing how chef-prepared meals were served from a self-serve buffet to a la cart.
  • Placing protective shields over the food service area and adding social distance markers on the floor to still allow the residents to interact with the cook and remain as independent with their meals as possible.
  • Staggering dining times to ensure less people in the dining area and at the food station.
  • Providing mask guidance for residents when outside of their room.
  • Tracking and limiting the number of residents in the fitness room.
  • Installing an air purifier in the gym as an additional safety measure to keep the facility open.
  • Offering group activities, exercise classes and bingo in a former dining room to allow for more space for social distancing.
  • Increasing cleaning times for all common spaces.

“While the residents obviously would prefer to return to a pre-coronavirus lifestyle, they have been amenable to the measures we have put in place to protect their safety,” noted Mach.

Constructed in 2010, the 104,000 square foot facility was built to replace the original Motherhouse of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph. “The expansive nature of the building has really lent itself to providing room for the residents to continue their accustomed way of living,” added Mach.

Making Safety a Priority in the Senior Community

In addition to the many amenities offered, there is a beautiful and large chapel on site. As the New York State COVID cluster zones changed, the facility looked to the Diocese of Buffalo, following their capacity guidelines, adding masses to allow all residents the opportunity to attend weekly services.

Just as is expected of all associates who work in senior care facilities, the priest who conducts weekly mass is frequently COVID tested, follows social distancing guidelines, and wears necessary PPE.

Visitation has also been restricted at times throughout the pandemic, per NYS Department of Health Guidelines. In keeping with Catholic Health protocols to minimize the transmission of COVID-19, the few residents at St. Francis Park who did test positive were temporarily moved to the St. Joseph Post-Acute Center in Orchard Park within hours of receiving their test results.

The St. Joseph Post-Acute Center is a COVID-only nursing facility Catholic Health opened in spring 2020 for patients and residents to recover safely before returning to their home environments.

Efforts towards COVID-19 prevention have become a part of the daily lives of the residents and staff at St. Francis Park, but in January 2021, a new reinforcement arrived. Walgreens pharmacists were onsite to rollout vaccines, marking another win for the resilient independent senior living community.

“Vaccine distribution gives us all hope that we can someday return to our pre-COVID lives,” said Mach.

Learn More About St. Francis Park

For residents 65 and older, St. Francis Park offers the comforts of home without the burden of maintaining a house. Let our skilled team take care of the housekeeping and meal preparation while you enjoy onsite salon services and massage therapy.

Visit us online at saintfrancispark.com or call (716) 923-0635 to find out more about life at St. Francis Park.

Learn More About St. Francis Park Call (716) 923-0635

Learn More About St. Francis Park
Call (716) 923-0635