Some of the staff at Presentation Manor pose in front of a sign that says it all about the people that worked at keeping residents safe. About 100 people work at Presentation Manor. Photo contributed

Presentation Manor retirement home endures pandemic with strong community

  • April 9, 2021

The day Presentation Manor went into lockdown for COVID-19 was Charles Hendrick’s birthday, but he wasn’t there to celebrate. He had died the previous October of pancreatic cancer.

Just before he died, Charles and his wife Anne had moved into Presentation Manor — a Scarborough retirement home founded by almost two dozen religious orders whose older members are the founding residents, living together in a community of communities with lay people such as the Hendricks.

Charles got his cancer diagnosis in July of 2019. He wanted Anne settled before he had to go. They sold their house a few blocks away, tied up loose ends and moved into Presentation Manor together four days before Charles had to be transferred to hospital.

“He didn’t really suffer, which was excellent,” said Anne.

However hard it has been to survive COVID-19 through lockdowns and isolation, Anne knows she’s been able to count on her neighbours in Presentation Manor. There was a mobile bar cart that came down the hall with staff and volunteers checking on everybody. As restrictions eased, residents could attend Mass and pray together with their neighbours at a safe distance.

Even when the 225 residents were exiled from the dining room and had to take meals in their rooms, there was never a time Anne was not cared for.

Pandemic-wise, things have been looking up at Presentation Manor. In January staff started receiving the Pfizer vaccine. Anne had spent most of her working life at Warner Lambert’s Canadian offices — the company that eventually became Pfizer Canada. But along with the other residents, she received the Moderna vaccine in January and February. Since she and her neighbours have been inoculated the changes in routine have been subtle.

“They say, if you don’t have to go shopping, or if you don’t have to go to the store, it’s better if you don’t go for now — until everybody gets vaccinated,” she explained.

Family caregivers were vaccinated along with the residents, so there’s a little more life in the building with the inoculated visitors allowed in.

On the anniversary of the lockdown, March 13, Charles’ birthday, Anne was able to visit the cemetery with her sister-in-law.

“I had a good day,” she said. “We even stopped at Wendy’s and got a hamburger. Which, what I was craving was a hamburger — which is weird, right?”

As Holy Week has come and gone, and with vaccines and the promise of warmer weather, things are starting to look forward for Sr. Pat Grant. Restrictions at Presentation Manor have loosened as more and more residents get their jab in the arm.

“It is just very special to people that they are able once again to go to Mass. That lifted everybody,” she said. “It (was) a huge boost to go into Holy Week knowing that we will have Holy Week celebrations — just a huge morale boost.”

Grant of the Loretto Sisters knows precisely why Presentation residents have been able to endure a tough year through the COVID-19 crisis.

“We had a huge advantage, because we have a wonderful community here — not just the religious but also the other people who live here. We’ve become a community over time. We have become a very bonded community. We care about each other,” Grant said. “There is, among everybody here, this overwhelming sense of gratitude for what we’ve received.”

Grant was among the volunteers phoning residents regularly, participating in socially-distanced exercises in the hallways, keeping up conversations among residents standing in their doorways.

She well remembers the anxiety of those first days of lockdown.

“We had all these new routines,” she said. “We had to wear masks and we had to do all this sanitizing of our hands and social distancing. Our activities all just fell apart. We had marvelous activities before that, so many wonderful activities here and so much life. It just all disappeared.”

A year on, things are looking up.

“On St. Patrick’s Day we had a St. Paddy’s Day party in the dining room — with music. We haven’t had music in so long,” she said.

For Presentation Manor’s CEO, getting the institution through lockdown was a technical challenge. Gord Perrault and his staff leaned heavily on the assistance they got from Michael Garron Hospital as they adopted new protocols and launched quick tests for all staff coming into the building. But his larger concern was for the psychological and spiritual well-being of the community. 

As soon as Presentation Manor received its first positive test, sending everyone in the building into isolation, Perrault moved out of his house and into the manor.

“I thought I should be here with my extended family,” he said. “You know, the captain should stay with the ship.”

In the end, surviving the year made the Presentation community stronger, more resilient, Perrault said.

“It brought together everybody, including our staff, the families of the residents, all the residents themselves. To me, that has just been very touching,” he said.

“You would know, we’re a community of communities,”  said retired Regis College dean of students Wilma Sherloski. “That’s what helped us, because we had other people to relate to.”

Just after the March 13, 2020 province-wide lockdown, Sherloski was on her way to Marathon, Ont., to visit her sister Lorraine Kowalke, who had been diagnosed with cancer on March 6. Her doctor figured she might not make it to her May birthday. 

By the time Sherloski got to Marathon on March 18, the little town on the north shore of Lake Superior was locked down. She stayed with her niece, a couple of doors down the street from her sister, and the two houses together formed a social bubble of eight.

The first thing the family did when she got there was celebrate Christmas, “because Christmas was her (Lorraine’s) big feast.” Lorraine made it past her birthday and by then Sherloski was wondering about coming home to Presentation Manor.

“My friends would call from here and they would say, ‘Don’t come back.’ People here said, ‘Well you can come back, but then you’ll be in isolation and all the rest of it,’ ” she recalled.

Sherloski called on her Jesuit friends and friends from Presentation Manor and they arranged a virtual sacrament of the sick. Her sister’s cancer is in remission. She got to celebrate Christmas again in December.

Sherloski did come home to Presentation Manor in June. She knew it was home because she remembers her move-in day in the fall of 2019.

“When I first came in, the welcoming was wonderful,” she said. “Almost right away, you feel part of the bigger community. I think it does help.”

Through the lockdown, the Presentation community expanded to include Lorraine.

“Everybody here praying for her, the whole community here,” she said. “All of the blessings, all of that, helped her.”

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