Shirley and John Clark wave from their balcony while ‘Elvis’ performs from ground-level. (Contributed photo)

Singing from the street: ‘Elvis’ gives South Surrey seniors a show

Resident describes life inside retirement home during COVID-19 pandemic

Measures designed to protect some of society’s most vulnerable people from COVID-19 have left seniors more isolated than ever before, however, staff at least one South Surrey seniors village are thinking outside the box – and the building – to support residents during these troubling times.

Despite being isolated with her husband John in her Amica White Rock (15333 16 Ave.) suite for a number of weeks, resident Shirley Clark says she has no complaints and that staff – everyone from the janitor to dining staff – “have our interests at heart.”

“It’s a bit hard in that things are being shut down… but I think the staff have got our health and welfare foremost on their minds as well as putting it onto ours. I think they’ve done a wonderful job. They cater to our wishes if at all possible,” Clark said on Monday, a few days after a Good Friday concert was performed in the building’s courtyard by Steve ‘Elvis’ Elliott.

The concert, Clark said, was “absolutely wonderful.”

“We enjoyed it very much. My husband and I think everybody in the building looked like they did, anyways. Elvis did a great job, he sort of took us back to our younger days,” she said.

Amica hired the locally well-known Elvis Presley impersonator to conduct a concert of gospel songs from ground-level for residents who watched from their balconies.

Booked for one hour, Elliott ended up singing for two hours while residents danced to familiar tunes and chowed down on a lobster meal delivered to their suites.

RELATED: B.C. care homes well equipped to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks: seniors advocate

Elliott told Peace Arch News it was his first live performance since Valentine’s Day.

“I’m an artist as well, so I’ve been doing a lot of acrylic paintings and I’ve been selling them to our seniors,” Elliott said.

“Reaching out in art and reaching out in music. I can’t sing live yet, publicly, but this virus doesn’t stop me from singing. I’ve done a couple of online concerts as well, but this would be the first time we do something outside of the building for everybody.”

Being employed in the entertainment business likely means that he will be one of the last people to return to work once the social distancing measures are lifted, Elliott said.

“I’m assuming anything that’s crowd-related, whether indoor or outdoor, I think that could be for quite a long time, even after this is over. You know, we may be the ones working last.”

RELATED: B.C.’s senior home staff measures show results in COVID-19 battle

Amica general manager Kelvin Monterio said the building’s 177 residents have been asked to self-isolate in their suites, while activity areas and the dining room have been closed and visitors are not allowed.

“Unless they’re essential and that’s across all Fraser Health now and Vancouver Coastal. Unless someone is essentially palliative, or literally on their last days of life, we’re saying no visitors at this time, again, just to protect them,” Monterio said.

“It’s their choice, but for the most part they are staying in their suites. We’re just asking that they try to not go to any stores or go visit friends outside the building because we don’t want anything brought in.”

Monterio said residents have been understanding of the circumstances and are well-informed about the latest COVID-19 news, and Amica staff have found creative ways to give residents something to focus on each day.

Staff started delivering meals to each suite about two weeks ago, and Amica started providing exercise and musical programs from the curb, allowing residents to participate from their balconies.

Residents are taking advantage of opportunities for both physical and mental activity, Clark said.

“They do exercise classes out on our balconies in the morning and then they have a musical program where you can dance and groove to the music in the afternoon.

“They send around puzzles, word puzzles, things like that, to keep our mind busy. They help you get books online and all the rest…. All of our meals are brought to our room, so we don’t suffer in any way. They have definitely gone out of their way to make it healthy and safe for us.”

Clark said because residents are permitted to roam much of the building, they’ve enjoyed the birds in the rooftop garden. Everyone, she noted, is practising safe physical distancing.

“They’re very careful of us, and I think that’s why we lucked out so well.”

Resident Audrey Kilpatrick also had nothing but kind things to say about how the facility is being operated under the circumstances – “I have no complaints at all.”

“We just finished having music out in the front so we could dance on our balcony and they have exercises on the balcony. They’re trying to keep us fit,” Kilpatrick said. “I love being out there swaying to the music.”

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Steve ‘Elvis’ Elliott performs to residents of Amica White Rock. (Contributed photo)

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