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Healthy Aging

Residents Grow Closer While Socially Distant at Riverside Healthy Living Community Smithfield

August 20, 2020


Helen Aberth, 95, looks forward to the day when, “We can come out and whoop and holler together.”

That is a sentiment shared by many of the other residents at Riverside Healthy Living Community - Smithfield, which promotes a holistic approach to taking care of the mind, body and spirit in an environment that promotes independence.

No cases of COVID-19 have been reported among the residents of this older adult community, which adopted strong infection prevention and social distancing measures early in 2020.

“I believe Mom is safer there than in my own home,” said Helen’s daughter, Beth, who considered bringing her mother to live with her in the early days of coronavirus. “I left her there, and I’m glad I did. I have full belief that she is well taken care of.”

Likewise, Linda Griffin worried about her sister, Ann, who, like Helen, lives at Magnolia Manor, the assisted living portion of the Riverside community in Smithfield.

“When COVID first reared its ugly head, my first thought was how anyone in a group home would be susceptible,” she said. “But it seems to me that Magnolia Manor was proactive instead of reactive.”


Riverside has capacity for 41 in Magnolia Manor, 20 in its memory care unit, The Garden, and 34 in its nursing home. More than any amenity offered, safety and sanitation rank first.

“Our residents want to be well taken care of, and they know they are safe here,” said Martha Hunt, the Director of Resident Services and Marketing at the Smithfield community. “They feel secure. They’re not afraid. They don’t feel like COVID is knocking on their door.”

Still, Hunt understands the value of socialization for those who call Riverside Healthy Living Community - Smithfield home. Hunt’s own parents lived at Riverside, just one reason why it’s easy for her to treat every resident as a member of her family.

Her mind searches for fresh ideas on how to make all of them feel special and loved, especially during these times.

With group activities on hold, Hunt visits every Magnolia Manor room twice a day unless a resident specifies otherwise. These are not drive-bys, they are sit-downs.

“Right now, we can’t socialize like we used to because when we leave our rooms, we have to wear a mask,” Aberth said. “But she keeps us pepped up. She always brings something with her, too.”

Sometimes it is hot coffee or cherry vanilla ice cream. Hunt knows who likes Pepsi and who would rather have a Coke. She is an encyclopedia of who likes what when.


Ernestine Tew, 97, would never be without a book but struggles to see the print due to her sight.

“Now I’ve got a CD player and Martha sees to it, even with the pandemic, that I get books on tape from the library,” Tew said.

Hunt knows Tew devours anything by J.D. Fletcher and Aberth sticks to westerns, ideally by Louis L’Amour. She understands that when she greets resident Ann Griffin, the daily Jumble in the newspaper, is going to be the first topic.

During Easter, Hunt hid five eggs per room and challenged residents to find them. Prizes included free beauty shop trips. “We’re small, which I love,” Hunt said. “You don’t get lost in the shuffle here.”

Hallway games, with residents staying inside their rooms, offer some engagement during this difficult time.

“We did the history of baseball, where we had trivia and a crossword puzzle, and I handed out Cracker Jacks and peanuts,” Hunt said. “One day I did the history of the circus and served peanuts. We do hallway Bingo. They just like seeing each other.”

Wine and cheese Fridays, now on hold because of COVID-19, have given way to music nights, Glenn Miller and other Big Band standards, courtesy of Hunt.

While traditional visits are not allowed to prevent the spread of the virus, it is not unusual for family members to pull up lawn chairs to windows and talk.

Beth Aberth checks in on her mom, Helen, that way.

“I can see how her hair is growing and what shirt she is wearing,” Beth said. “There’s a bird feeder out there, and I let her know what birds are out. She’s started to get into birding.”

On Mother’s Day, residents lined the driveway for a surprise. Hunt arranged for a parade of cars – families inside answering smiles with waves and long-distance greetings. Back in March, a spectacle of a different sort — one that included a pair of alpacas and dogs of all sizes — entertained residents. The alpacas were not shy about coming up to windows for personal hellos.

Hunt introduces crafts, too, and helps out one-on-one to perfect them.

“I like to set them up for success. I don’t give them things I think are too difficult to do or too childish,” she said. “You don’t want to insult their intelligence. You want it to be interesting and fun.”

It would be easy to get discouraged, Tew admits. She has overcome more challenges than many, having lost a daughter, and her son was born with a disability.

Yet, she rarely gets discouraged. “I enjoy everything here. We have good programs and good discussions; I Iove it all,” she said. “I’ve been around a long time, and I’ve seen a lot of stuff in this world. I try to hang in there the best I can.”

For more information about Riverside Healthy Living Community – Smithfield visit riversideonline.com.