Carolyn Ross, on the balcony of her apartment at Arlington’s Olympic Place, is happily surprised on her 96th birthday Monday. Unable to visit the senior community due to coronavirus precautions, her children and their spouses sang “Happy Birthday” from outside. (Vanessa Ross photo)

Carolyn Ross, on the balcony of her apartment at Arlington’s Olympic Place, is happily surprised on her 96th birthday Monday. Unable to visit the senior community due to coronavirus precautions, her children and their spouses sang “Happy Birthday” from outside. (Vanessa Ross photo)

From balcony, a 96th birthday surprise despite no-visit rule

With care facilities locked down by coronavirus concerns, loved ones and seniors are finding a way.

Carolyn Ross served in the U.S. Marine Corps Women’s Reserve during World War II. She married a Marine and raised a family. Now, her life is affected by another battle as the world fights the coronavirus.

She lives at Olympic Place, a senior community in Arlington. Like similar facilities around the state and across the nation, Olympic Place now has a no-visitor policy aimed at preventing residents from contracting COVID-19. Ross is taking it in stride — even when it comes to her 96th birthday.

Her daughter, Cathy Skodje, called ahead of time to say, “Mom, we’re not forgetting.” Skodje said her mother’s reply was “We’ll just skip it this year.”

That didn’t happen, though. Ross’s daughter and two sons weren’t about to let their mom’s big day Monday pass without a celebration.

Skodje, who lives in Burlington with her husband, Jeff, recruited her brothers and their wives to join in a surprise. Little did Ross know, when Skodje called Monday to chit-chat and wish her mom a happy 96th birthday, that the family was right outside.

“She lives on the third floor with a balcony. I said, ‘Mom, put on a jacket,’” Skodje said. Her mom, she said, sounded excited as she replied, “Are you here?”

“We all sang ‘Happy Birthday’ from the ground. She was kind of in shock,’ said Skodje, whose sextet included Jeff and Robin Ross, of Arlington, and Rick and Nancy Ross. “We joked with her that we have to have a rope and a basket to send stuff up and down,” Skodje said.

Olympic Place is owned by Bonaventure Senior Living, based in Salem, Oregon, which runs 25 facilities in three states.

Last week, Gov. Jay Inslee announced strict visitation rules for all state-licensed long-term care facilities. Following the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ guidance, those rules limited residents to one visitor per day, required that a log be kept of all visitors for 30 days, and that any resident with symptoms be kept in isolation.

Pam Gray, CEO of Bonaventure Senior Living, said Tuesday that a new order bans visitors altogether. “We’ve tried to stay ahead of what’s happening. And our families are being awesome,” she said.

Skodje said the no-visitor request came just a few days ago.

“Olympic Place was ahead of the game,” Skodje said. “At least a couple weeks ago, they asked us not to come or take Mom out unless it was absolutely necessary. In the last couple days, it’s been ‘Please don’t come inside.’”

Describing the no-visit order as “beyond hard,” Gray said “it is gut-wrenching.”

Outside Olympic Place, an Arlington senior community, Carolyn Ross’s children and their spouses gathered to wish her a happy 96th birthday Monday although they couldn’t visit. They are, from left: Jeff Skodje, Nancy Ross, Cathy Skodje, Robin Ross, Jeff Ross and Rick Ross. (Vanessa Ross photo)

Outside Olympic Place, an Arlington senior community, Carolyn Ross’s children and their spouses gathered to wish her a happy 96th birthday Monday although they couldn’t visit. They are, from left: Jeff Skodje, Nancy Ross, Cathy Skodje, Robin Ross, Jeff Ross and Rick Ross. (Vanessa Ross photo)

Gut-wrenching, that’s for sure. My own mother, at 98, lives now at Rockwood Manor, a Spokane care facility near the home where I grew up and where my father still lives. Until the no-visit rule was imposed, my dad and sister both visited my mom every day. I was there in February, but don’t know when I’ll again be able to see her.

Gray said some seniors don’t understand what’s happening with coronavirus and why loved ones aren’t visiting. “If residents struggle, we’ll talk one-on-one with them,” she said. “We want them to feel safe, with low anxiety.”

Inside its centers, Gray said Bonaventure is working to keep people healthy while making the days as normal as possible at this trying time. “We have closed dining rooms for social distancing,” she said, and meals are being delivered to residents. “They’re not confined to their suites,” she said. Although large group activities aren’t happening, there are ways to get people together in small gatherings while maintaining safe distances.

“Our seniors are the most vulnerable, that’s who’s being hit. Our goal is not to lose anyone to this,” said Gray, who nevertheless acknowledged “it may happen.”

Skodje said her mother, who has an independent living apartment at Olympic Place, is in good health. “She’s fine, no problems,” she said.

Normally, the siblings each take their mom out separately for a birthday dinner. “Her birthday stretches out at least three days,” Skodje said.

This year, after their birthday song, they could only bring flowers and balloons to the Olympic Place entryway for the staff to give them to Ross.

“This is life going on,” Skodje said.

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

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