MONTREAL -- Arlene Standup is 74 years old and has been living at the Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge in Kahnawake for five years. She, like everyone, has watched the COVID-19 virus hit her age demographic in massive numbers particularly targeting CHSLD seniors’ homes across the province to devastating effect.

The Turtle Bay Elders’ Lodge in the the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) community has zero cases of COVID-19 among its 21 residences and no one has died at the facility due to the virus.

“It is very scary to hear about all those people who are dying like flies, which is sad,” said Standup. “What we have here is a complete different thing in our community and in our home here at the elders’ lodge.”

At the Kateri Memorial Hospital Centre, there are 58 long-term and short-term beds, and it also has zero cases of the virus.

“I knock on wood about a million times a day, but it’s mostly the directives we’ve put in place,” said KMHC executive director Lisa Westaway. “We’ve been extremely cautious.”

Elders’ lodge manager Mike Horne said everyone at the residence is being assessed on a daily basis for their mental and physical state, and just one resident was tested for COVID-19, a test that came back negative.

“Basically they’re all doing very well because of the measures we’ve taken,” said Horne. “We’ve been very proactive right since the outset of this pandemic.”

On March 14, visitations were restricted to essential staff and on March 22, all residents were told to self-isolate for two weeks with meals brought to their rooms.

Standup admitted that it was tough at first, especially for those that didn’t understand why they were being forced to stay in their rooms.

“It’s a very challenging thing for all of us,” said Standup, who joked that many said they felt like prisoners.

March 19 was particularly hard for Standup, as it was her birthday and Facetime replaced her usual family time.

“It was sad because I couldn’t have my family around,” she said. “It’s heartbreaking because we can’t hold them.”

Arlene Standup

It's not just the elders that are sacrificing human contact.

Staff at the facility that work with the residents was also told early not to have contact with other community members.

“This way it mitigates the risk of somebody exposed to somebody in the community and then working with somebody at the lodge,” said Horne. “They’ve been very diligent in just going work-to-home, home-to-work.”

Residents are now allowed out of their rooms to get exercise, do laundry and other activities with a strict adherence to physical distancing measures. Standup said staff calls every day to check on the residents.

“They’re still calling us: ‘Hey. How are you? How are you feeling?’” she said. “I’m not going to say that none of us get to a down point where we just feel shut out.”

Standup said sometimes residents have to cry it out, but she still feels blessed to be at the residence.

“Sometimes you have to put a release on your body,” she said. “Then I stop to think and say, ‘Hey. Look how good we have it here.’”

Turtle Bay increased staff on the reception desk so family members aren’t left wondering how their loved one is doing, as was noted at other care homes in the province.

The majority of the 21 residents are over 70 with the eldest at the home over 100, and Horne added that the Kanien’kehá:ka (Mohawk) culture of honouring elders made it a community-wide effort to make sure they were okay.

“It’s well-known that within First Nations communities, we cherish our elders, so everybody has taken that responsibility to ensure the well-being of all our elders,” said Horne. “ Not only in our lodge, but in the community.”

The management team at the lodge meets daily and implements decisions fast.

“We don’t wait until a couple of days,” said Horne. “We act immediately on the directives. Those are things that have proven to be successful.”

In the meantime, Standup and her friends wait for the time when they can be with their families again. She knows it will not be a quick process.

“They’ll be afraid to go out. That’s the biggest part right now is being afraid to get out there. It’s going to take baby steps,” she said. “At my age, at 74 years old, never ever in my history life did I ever think that something like this could happen to us. It’s a new teaching.”