Flathead Valley retirement communities unsure of when they will reopen

Brendan House
Posted at 4:40 PM, Jul 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-03 10:44:16-04

KALISPELL — Gov. Steve Bullock is now allowing retirement facilities to reopen to the public but while they're allowed to open, it doesn't mean they will.

Retirement communities in the Flathead Valley are unsure of when they will fully open to the public.

MTN News spoke with Kelly Bilau who is the Brendan House Administrator and she explained she's unsure with rising coronavirus cases in Montana if it's safe to reopen.

She explained that there are a lot of different factors the facility must consider before reopening.

"Should we open up a door for a negative opportunity to come at us? So, we have to take all those things into consideration," explained Bilau.

Gov. Bullock lifted visitation restrictions on retirement communities last week, allowing visitation to begin.

However, Bilau explained that reopening is done on a case by case basis and if a retirement community has met all CDC health requirements to open safely.

Because of these factors, she said that it's not safe for Brendan House to reopen.

"I really want to pay attention to what's happening in our valley," she said. "If cases continue to climb, I'm not sure if we're willing to put this population at risk."

MTN News also spoke with Jason Cronk CEO of Immanuel Senior Lutheran communities.

He agrees with Bilau and explained to MTN that he does not believe it is safe to reopen Immanuel Lutheran communities right now to visitors.

"I really believe it's when we have a reliable at least testing or vaccine," said Cronk. "I don't know if we can let our guard down until we have those types of solutions."

Both Brendan House and Immanuel Lutheran communities acknowledge that being isolated during the coronavirus pandemic can be lonely.

So, both facilities came up with creative ideas to support their residents.

Both Brenda House and Immanuel Lutheran communities have a two-way plexiglass.

Family members sit on one side while the resident sits on the other.

Bilau explained that some of the new technology residents are using at Brendan House to connect to family members have been extremely beneficial.

"Some of these residents with hearing impairments and things they've got going on it's actually be easier for them to carry on a conversation," she said. "They can hook an iPad up to their cochlear implant."

Cronk says right now, the staff acts like family to their residents.

"In essence, we've become the eyes and ears of family members more than ever," he said.

Both Brendan House and Immanuel Lutheran Communities continue to move towards re-opening by rigorously testing staff and providing appropriate personal protective equipment.

However, both Cronk and Bilau say it could be a while before retirement communities reopen to the public.

Both Cronk and Bilau says once facilities do reopen, visits will be different. For example, strict social distancing and a health questionnaire may be enforced.