Senior Living – Creating Community in Spite of COVID

If you have spent much time around Mill City, you might have noticed a gorgeous, boxy building between the Stone Arch Bridge and the Guthrie Theater. It is nice to look at, with a dramatic black trim that starkly contrasts the tan and grey brick, the slate-colored siding, and the many recessed balconies. It looks like any other upscale condominium or apartment building – which is not far from the truth. This is Abiitan: a residential living space for people who are 55 and older

I was lucky enough to spend a little time with Sue Lee, the Chief Communications and Marketing Officer of Ecumen, Abiitan’s parent company, and she gave me the run down on this stunning facility. We talked about everything: the facility itself, the way that Abiitan is dealing with COVID on both operational and personal levels, and Lee’s high opinion of Abiitan’s residents.

It should not surprise you to learn that the inside of Abiitan is every bit as nice as the outside. The building includes comfortable, contemporary, independent living spaces as well as state-of-the-art assisted living and memory care facilities. Abiitan truly has something for everyone. The property, which opened in 2016, feels modern, accessible, and trendy. Its bar/restaurant, café, and gym, are respectively classy, cozy, and full of high-tech machines.

Abiitan’s fresh aesthetic alongside Ecumen’s long history as a successful care provider makes for a winning combination. Ecumen “has a legacy of more than 150 years…[and is ] one of the country’s largest nonprofit providers of housing and healthcare services,” Lee says. The organization is “committed to exceptional care, advocacy for those it serves and employs, equality, and inclusivity.”

Of course, neither its beautiful facilities nor its historic legacy could shelter Abiitan’s staff and residents from the ramifications of COVID, but because Ecumen took the pandemic seriously from the beginning, when I ask Lee how the pandemic impacted residents, her first thought is of local business closures.

“Each of Ecumen’s communities has a long-standing commitment to helping residents stay connected,” Lee explains “At Abiitan, those connections sometimes reach beyond the walls to downtown arts and cultural centers, dining and recreational activities. Those activities outside the community have been curtailed during this period.” Residents, many of whom specifically chose Abiitan because of its close proximity to favorite Minneapolis touchstones, have been sad to see favorite dining establishments close and nearby theaters go dark during this time.

From the beginning of the pandemic, Abiitan has worked hard to provide safe opportunities for residents to engage with artistic, cultural, and educational opportunities that are no longer available in the surrounding area. “Abiitan’s wonderful community partners have found innovative ways to bring music, lectures, classes and other opportunities to residents virtually, via technology,” Lee says, “Across all of Ecumen’s communities, more than 23,000 virtual and in-person visits have been scheduled with the help of technology. The resilient spirit of our community members has been completely inspiring.”

Abiitan has also helped residents maintain social connections safely through the pandemic. “Outdoor visits from friends and family were enjoyed all summer and through the fall and we introduced a Connection Station, a 3-sided plexiglass booth that allowed those residents who have challenges wearing masks the opportunity to see their loved ones.”

In addition to the visits from friends and relatives who do not live at Abiitan, Lee has noticed the Abiitan community growing stronger. “We’ve seen that this time has brought residents together more than ever before – as they reach out by phone to connect and support one another,” she says, “One group of independent living residents has regularly sent beautiful, hand-crafted cards to residents in memory care, to remind them that they are part of a caring community. There are so many innovative ways to safely share stories and make new friendships.”

The tight-knit community at Abiitan is a direct result of the residents, who Lee is routinely impressed by. “We have a truly outstanding community at Abiitan – it really is a place where interesting people do interesting things,” Lee says, “We have socially conscious residents…Some are artists and educators, others come from business.” Abiitan is an exceptional place to live, not because of the amenities, but because of the strong community built by the hands and hearts of each resident.

As we wrapped up our conversation, Lee made a point to remind me how important it is for everyone to stay connected to the people they love. Residents at Abiitan are already excelling at giving the “gift of connections”, as Lee calls it. Giving that gift is something that the rest of us should strive to do for our family and friends as well.

We can all benefit from Lee’s final words of advice: “Stay safe and stay connected.”