Life for the most vulnerable

Changes made to keep residents safe at Sunrise Senior Living in Broomfield


Kate Muldoon

A typical day at Sunrise Senior Living in Broomfield starts with waking up, taking the elevator downstairs, and eating breakfast at the buffet with friends and neighbors. The possibilities for the rest of the day are endless. There’s always the option to participate in an exercise or art class, watch a movie in the theatre room, or go on an organized excursion to a popular spot around the area.

Not only can residents take advantage of the facilities and programs offered, they can also live their life as they normally would by going to the grocery store, restaurants, the park, and wherever else they choose.

But currently, most of these options are unavailable. Nursing homes and senior living residencies are some of the places most vulnerable to COVID-19. Many residents have conditions that could lead to more severe symptoms, should they contract the virus.

Infection control is nothing new for Sunrise and communities like it, given the risk that cold and flu season poses to their residents every year. However, the current situation is, of course, a different battle. Because of this, restrictions have been set to help keep residents and staff safe.

“We have made the decision to largely limit visitors from entering our communities out of an abundance of caution and to be consistent with CDC and local health departments’ guidance,” CEO of Sunrise Senior Living Chris Winkle said. This means non-essential visitors are not allowed in the building.

“The decision to limit visitation to those who are absolutely essential was an extremely difficult one to make,” Winkle said. Even though the decision had the potential to be disruptive for residents, it was made in their best interest.

Linda Muldoon, a resident at Sunrise at Flatirons, has lived in the independent living building since she moved to Colorado from Potomac, Maryland almost three years ago. Prior to restrictions put in place due to COVID-19, she enjoyed swimming at Lifetime Fitness and visiting a country club in Golden with her boyfriend.

“Everything is locked up, the theatre, the library, the dining room, the beauty salon, everything,” Muldoon said.

Muldoon’s boyfriend, Gene Weston, also lives in independent living. Weston spent five years at the Air Force Academy and many more living across Colorado, so he misses the ability to enjoy the outdoors. “Of course [the Air Force Academy] has changed a lot since I was there, but it’s a beautiful place,” Weston said.

Weston and Muldoon have been able to continue to spend time together despite living in different apartments, but the environment is not the same as what they were used to.

“Before, we could spend time with other people and use the lounge. We kept pretty busy,” Weston said. Now, residents are encouraged to reduce contact with each other, and common areas are limited.

As of May 1, there have been 18 cases of COVID-19 in Sunrise at Flatirons, including five employees who have contracted the disease. “We are all committed to being responsive to the evolving health situation and going above and beyond to prevent the spread of this virus,” Winkle said.

Employees and residents are all wearing masks to keep themselves and others safe, but it is obvious that life is drastically different than before.

“I miss going down to the dining room because now they just bring our food to our room,” Muldoon said, “It’s getting kind of boring.”

Luckily for Muldoon and Weston, the staff at Sunrise have been able to keep at least a little bit of consistency in the schedules of residents.

“We all have balconies, so the exercise guy goes around the building on the street and we go out on our balconies,” Muldoon said, “When it’s our turn, we do exercises with him.”

Although outside visitors are prohibited inside the building, Sunrise is starting to organize 30 minute appointments for groups of less than four to visit the exterior grounds and see their loved ones face to face. These appointments will continue to follow social distancing rules. Sunrise also recently distributed hundreds of iPads nationally to help residents virtually connect with loved ones via Skype and Facetime.

Of course, the current situation is stressful for everyone involved, but residents are able to stay safe because of regulations put in place. “Sunrise is anchored in its unwavering commitment to the health and well being of our residents,” Winkle said.  

“We are all committed to being responsive to the evolving health situation and going above and beyond to prevent the spread of this virus,” Winkle said.