'It's like a big family': At Manoir Stanstead seniors' home, staff have moved in to keep COVID-19 out

The home's 53 residents, many over 90, haven't had visitors for weeks. They're happy to have 13 new housemates — and a chihuahua named Bobo — and everyone is at less risk of catching the coronovirus or passing it on.

Home's 53 residents have 13 new housemates — and a chihuahua named Bobo

Thirteen staff members at Manoir Stanstead, close to the Canada-U.S. border in Quebec, have moved into the seniors' home for a month to stave off COVID-19. (Guylaine Charette/Radio-Canada)

Mary Lou Gustin is thrilled 13 younger people — and one chihuahua named Bobo — are moving into the seniors' residence where she lives, in Stanstead, Que. 

Most of the staff at Manoir Stanstead, home to 53 elderly residents, are moving in for the next month.

"I love it. I think it's the best thing in the world," said Gustin, 83, who has lived at Manoir Stanstead since 2011. 

"It's just nice to see them around, nice to know we have that extra protection if needed."

Limiting the comings and goings at the residence is an added precaution to keep COVID-19 at bay, said director Susie Adam, a registered nurse, who moved in even before the coronavirus threat was declared a pandemic, way back in early March.

Adam said for her, it wasn't a choice, but rather the best option to protect the residents, about half of whom are over 90.

"They are really happy," Adam said. They haven't seen their own families since March 12, when the Manoir Stanstead took the precaution of banning visitors.

"They miss them. So to have the staff here, just like they have their family with them, they really appreciate it."

Staff also distancing from their families 

Having the staff on site gives Adam peace of mind that everyone can stay healthy.

"I'm not doing it for people to thank me, I'm doing it because that's me," said Donna Rolfe, the assistant director at Manoir Stanstead. "These people are people, and they need our help."

It also gives staff a place to stay. 

Employees at the Manoir Stanstead — like many other front-line health-care workers — had already been self-isolating from their own family members.

"It's hard," said Adam. "I don't see my children and my grandchildren and my family, but it's the same for all the seniors."

Residents at the Manoir Stanstead say they're happy to have the staff on site, and they have created a flag to celebrate their new mascot, Bobo the chihuahua. (Guylaine Charette/Radio-Canada)

Bobo, the home's new mascot

Michelle Dubois, an attendant at Manoir Stanstead, has brought her chihuahua Bobo to live with her at the home. He's become a kind of pet therapist to the 53 residents. (Guylaine Charette/Radio-Canada)

Michelle Dubois was unsure whether she'd be able to move into the residence where she is an attendant, because of Bobo, her chihuahua, who weighs in at under two kilograms.

But Adam told Dubois that Bobo was more than welcome.

He has since become an ad hoc zoo therapist for the residents, curling up with them when an attendant visits.

"They all get up in the morning looking for Bobo," Rolfe said. "He goes and visits them all in their rooms."

"He's really been a big joy." 

Normalizing the abnormal

With the kitchen and maintenance staff also on site, Adam said, she is trying to keep things as normal as possible for the residents, even with physical distancing.

People now sit two to a table, instead of four in the dining hall; outside service providers and volunteers are no longer allowed in, and many activities have been cancelled. 

But the staff tries to get residents out for daily walks on the property, and there is still bingo — albeit with physical-distancing measures in place. 

"It makes them forget about that virus out there and forget about not being with their families right now," Rolfe said.

Daily newsletter continues

Gustin is computer-savvy, and she continues to update the residence's families with her daily reports on how everyone is faring.

She hopes to soon get to spend time again with her boyfriend, whom she hasn't seen since March 14, because he doesn't have video chat technology. 

She does feel isolated, but not hard done by.

"Other people are just as hard off as I am," Gustin said. 

"It's scary, you just wonder what's going to happen," she said. "So far it's all clear here, but how long is it going to be clear?"

"Just take it one step at a time, and just hope the next hour is going to be good." 

For now, everyone is safe and in good health, Adam said. And she's relieved to have the staff on site.

"It's the safest place in town now," Adam said.

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