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Resilience and Renewal: The Forest’s Journey Through Change

The past few years have been a time of significant change and challenge for our Forest community. From navigating the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic to the decommissioning of our former Health & Wellness Center, we’ve demonstrated remarkable resilience, adaptability, and commitment to each other’s well-being.

Team members from Health Services smile on a busy day of moving residents into the new Health Center; pictured left to right: Carissa Campbell, Social Worker; Kaylah Jenkins, Assistant Nursing Home Administrator; Brooklyn Sykes, Clinic Nurse Manager

(Photo by Kaylah Jenkins)

Pandemic Response: A Testament to Teamwork

When COVID-19 struck, our community rallied to implement comprehensive safety measures. Nathan Summers, Director of Community Services, provided insights into the multifaceted approach we took:

  • Electronic Screening: We developed a sophisticated electronic screening tool for team members and visitors, integrating it with our door access software. Charles Hudgens, Security & Transportation Manager, invested countless hours in testing, coordination, and training to ensure its effectiveness.
  • Team-Led Initiatives: Before the electronic system was in place, Forest managers and administrative team members personally conducted temperature checks and symptom screenings at key entrances, all while managing their regular responsibilities and adapting to pandemic-related changes.
  • Proactive Supply Management: Tom Bivens, Housekeeping Manager, ensured we had ample stocks of hand sanitizer, soap, and dispensers. Together with Ruth Wilkins, Housekeeping Supervisor, they managed the schedules of 36 housekeepers to maintain services while prioritizing safety.
  • Facility Adaptations: Our Maintenance team equipped isolation rooms with negative pressure capabilities. We also assigned specific team members to work exclusively in certain areas to minimize cross-contamination risks.
  • PPE Procurement: All departments worked diligently to secure necessary protective equipment, often forging new business relationships to ensure consistent supply.
  • Enhanced Communication: Leadership held thrice-weekly Zoom meetings to keep all departments informed and coordinated in our COVID response efforts.
The Whiting-Turner team prepares the site where the former Health & Wellness Center once stood for new construction.

(Photo by Kaylah Jenkins)

Decommissioning the Health & Wellness Center

As we emerged from the most intense period of the pandemic, we faced another significant transition: the decommissioning of our Health & Wellness Center.

On February 13, 2023, we moved all residents and their essential belongings to our newly constructed Health Center. The following day, our volunteer Encore Store team began the meticulous process of sorting through the old facility. It was a surreal experience, with unmade beds and personal belongings creating a scene that Kathleen Allen of the Encore Store volunteers describes as reminiscent of a “Biblical rapture.”

Over the next few weeks, the team worked tirelessly to prepare for a yard sale. They cataloged items from 60 resident rooms, including everything from high-end antiques to well-loved furniture, televisions, and artwork. The sale, held on March 8, 2023, was a tremendous success. Buyers lined up before dawn, and throughout the day, the team managed the controlled chaos with grace and efficiency.

An array of mirrors, priced to sell quickly, await new homes at the Encore Store’s big sale.

(Photo by Kaylah Jenkins)

The sale raised approximately $5,500, but the true value lay in the sense of purpose it gave the Forest community and the waste we prevented. The Encore Store team found new homes for countless items, including donating 20-30 chairs to a newly forming church for just $1 each. They even secured a new home for the former Health & Wellness Center’s baby grand piano, thanks to the help of a local piano company.

The Forest at Duke’s commitment to responsible decommissioning extended beyond the sale. We worked with Virginia company Black Dog Salvage to ensure that valuable materials from walls, floors, and kitchens were repurposed rather than bulldozed, addressing the concerns of residents worried about environmental impact.

Community Impact and Giving Back

Karen E. Henry, CPA, Chief Financial Officer, shared an important detail that underscores our commitment to community giving. In addition to the yard sale proceeds going to The Forest’s Benevolent Fund, we were able to donate $15,000 to Durham’s New Nearly New Thrift Store. This generous contribution not only supported a valuable community resource but also ensured that many more items would find new homes and continue to be useful.

Entrance to the new Health Center shortly after construction concluded

(Photo by Kaylah Jenkins)

Reflection and Looking Forward

As we reflect on these experiences – from our pandemic response to the decommissioning of our old Health Center – we’re filled with gratitude for the tireless work of our team members, volunteers, and the patience of our entire community. These challenges and the way we met them demonstrated the strength and resilience of our Forest at Duke family.

The decommissioning of our Health & Wellness Center was more than just the end of an era – it was a celebration of the lives lived within those walls and a testament to our community’s ability to come together in times of change. Similarly, our response to the COVID-19 pandemic showcased our adaptability and commitment to each other’s well-being.

As we look to the future in our new Health Center and beyond, we carry with us the memories, the spirit of cooperation, and the commitment to giving back that defined these remarkable transitions. Our community has shown that we can not only weather significant changes but emerge stronger and more united than ever.

The Forest at Duke stands ready to face whatever challenges may come, knowing that together, we can accomplish extraordinary things!

Lauren Young, Communications & Engagement Coordinator

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