WASILLA — Maple Springs of Wasilla and Maple Springs of Palmer have been closed to visitors since March of 2020, but that hasn’t stopped the staff and volunteers from finding creative solutions to connect residents with their loved ones.

“It’s been stressful for everybody, just incredibly stressful just trying to keep COVID out of our building and deal with it when it comes in, but we’ve also felt like we’ve really pulled through as a team and had each other’s backs,” Maple Springs infection specialist Emily Palenske said.

Palenske works with both of the Valley locations. She said the two facilities are making similar efforts to mitigate COVID-19 infections.

According to Palenske, there are about 60 residents in the Wasilla facility and 20 to 25 residents at the Palmer facility. She said they monitor and test their staff and residents weekly.

“The testing capabilities in the state have significantly increased over the last few months so we can get our tests back really quickly, and that’s been really key for us,” Palenske said.

Palenske said they’ve had minimal exposure to the virus, with only four cases in Palmer and two recent exposures in Wasilla with no cases there prior.

“It has been pretty low, especially when we compare notes with our counterparts down south. We have been spared a lot of heartache they’ve been going through down there,” Palenske said.

Both Maples Springs facilities came up with socially distant ways to support their residents through the holiday season, starting contactless contact sessions such as indoor window visits and “hug stations” with specialized gear.

Palenske said the limited contact has been very hard on everyone, but the resilient creativity from their team members has made a huge difference, with everyone making the most of the situation.

“That’s been really difficult, especially through the holiday season… We’ve been really lucky and we have really great support, especially from the state,” Palenske said.

Palenske said that Maple Springs started offering the window visits around Thanksgiving, and they continue to offer it as a regular service.

“That really helped a lot, for families to be able to see each other,” Palenske said. “We even had a really special one where families came and they just sang for half an hour, singing Christmas for their loved ones. It was really neat.”

Other support throughout the holiday season included the addition of more one on one activities, and the release of an interactive onsite network called Maple TV where they can play Bingo and engage in other activities and special programs.

“Our activities group has been really creative in coming up with some fun things to do to keep people engaged, and not just feeling like they’re in jail,” Palenske said. “Our team has just been incredible… I really applaud my team. It’s been a marathon. It hasn’t been a sprint any means, and they’ve really been in it for the long haul.”

Also during the holidays, community members from across the Valley sponsored residents and provided them with gifts through the Adopt Grandparent program.

“That just filled up as quick as you can imagine… It’s just been so neat to see how we really haven’t really been open to the community, the community has been there to support us,” Palenske said.

According to Palenske, Maple Springs of Wasilla opened in May of 2019, and Maple Springs of Palmer opened in February of 2020. She said there’s numerous locations in the Lower 48, and a third Alaskan location set to open in Anchorage over the next year or so.

“The overall mission for Maple Springs is to care for these residents so that they receive the very best care in the most dignified way possible. We love them and we want them to feel like this is their home,” Palenske said. “It hasn’t been easy, but we’ve managed to get through it so far.

“We’re all looking forward to the day when we don’t have to be closed up anymore. We keep saying one day, we’re gonna have a really big party and we’re gonna invite the whole world back in. Until then, we’re grateful for all the help we’ve had,” Palenske said.

Palenske said they’re currently taking applications for staff positions, they have several openings for residents in both locations.

“We are pretty much always hiring CNA’s, nurses, and physical therapists. We’ve got lots of openings,” Palenske said.

For more information, call 907-802-6645 for Maple Springs of Wasilla or 907-802-6641 for Maple Springs of Palmer.

Contact Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman reporter Jacob Mann at jacob.mann@frontiersman.com

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