Sunset’s Message About COVID-19

Mar 12, 2020 | Health & Wellness, Life At Sunset

May 6, 2020

Dear Residents, Family, and Friends of Sunset Communities,

If I haven’t said it recently, thank you. Our residents, family, staff, and community have been very gracious with us as we continue to navigate the murky waters of COVID-19. We sincerely appreciate all of you who are following the “rules;” wearing masks, using the assigned doors for deliveries, restricting your visits, and most of all, just being patient. Albeit tiring, it is working. We have had no COVID positive residents on any campus, and the handful of staff who have tested positive are doing well, and we can confirm there has been no spread to others in the Sunset Senior Communities. This is encouraging and calming, as we anxiously see the outside community begin to loosen their social distancing standards.

Here is what we still know. Executive Order 2020-50 (Stay Home Order) is in effect for the entire state until (at least) May 15. This means all Michiganders must stay home as much as possible, only leaving for essentials like food and doctor’s appointments. They are asked to be wearing a mask and staying 6 feet apart. A separate Executive Order 2020-72 was signed into effect on May 3, which extended the no visitation rule to senior living communities (independent, assisted, memory, and skilled care). This means no visiting, no letting family in through your patio door or side doors of buildings. We, as staff, cannot assist in visiting by bringing people outside. Inside, we are not allowed to have gatherings of more than 10 people, we have to wear masks, and we have to stay 6 feet apart. Please recognize that there are two different Executive Orders here, and they will most likely change independently of each other as time goes on.

I have been asked to enforce these rules for the handful of people who have not been following them. The truth of the matter is, I cannot force someone to do something, and neither can you. However, we can pray that everyone finds it in their hearts to put aside their own frustration to protect the lives of those around them. If that doesn’t work, remember, we all have the power to walk away and protect ourselves. If someone won’t wear a mask, you should walk away. I do this myself when I’m in a grocery store. It may be inconvenient, but I’m going to go out of my way to avoid those who won’t wear a mask in order to protect all of you, and my own family at home. As time goes on, it’s apparent the outside community is becoming more relaxed with social distancing recommendations. It feels a little scary because that means our staff, family, and visitors are going to be more exposed and have a greater chance of bringing this to our campuses. As hard as that is, we are going to look at this as a necessary step towards normalizing life. We get to test the waters inside and make sure all of our precautions hold strong, as the risk increases outside.

While I’m at this point, I’m going to deliver my last bit of disappointing news. Mother’s Day doesn’t change our precautions. We still cannot allow visitors this weekend and we cannot endorse trips to family homes and other gatherings. We are planning some surprises to make Mother’s Day as special as we can and I can promise when this is over, we can plan something great! Please take advantage of phone calls, Facetime, and Zoom in lieu of hugs and kisses.

Ok, time to talk happy things. We have a task force meeting regularly to develop our plan for moving forward. The past two months have been a crisis level operation mode, which means our focus was on developing the worst-case scenario plans, outbreak plans, containment, training, acquiring supplies and tools, etc. Today, we are confident we are in a good place, and we are ready should something arise. Now we can shift our focus to normalizing this state of safety. This does not mean we are returning to the way it was, but we are going to try to move towards a new, more sustainable normal response to COVID-19. We have developed a series of phases where we will trial different activities in a very controlled way. Each phase will be vetted out in advance with the following criteria:

  1. Professional recommendations (CDC, Executive Orders, County Health Departments)
  2. Risk to residents
  3. Risk to staff
  4. Protective equipment or tools needed
  5. Cleaning & sanitation needs
  6. Outcome monitoring (contact tracing, 14 days between big changes, additional screening)

Some activities will be crossed off the list of possibilities early, based on one of these criteria. If there’s an activity that we can pass through this list of considerations, we will trial it on a limited basis, track it closely, and monitor the outcomes. Each trial could take a couple of weeks to vet out, but this intentional process will allow us to change, modify, and adjust as we go, in a safe way. If something doesn’t go as we hoped, we can pull it back. If it goes really well, we can expand on it. Please, Please, Please, have patience with us during this process. On our first pass through, we have a list of about 50 activities to consider. We cannot resume everything at once, but we really want to make some educated, planned, small steps forward within the boundaries recommended.

We all appreciate the prayers as we continue on this journey. We’re praying for you too.

Please take care and stay healthy,

Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer


April 23, 2020

Dear Residents, Family, and Friends of Sunset Communities,

We are well into month two of our state’s COVID-19 response and I’m guessing many of you are as conflicted as I am. The media, family, friends, and co-workers all seem to have slightly different opinions about what should be done and when or how we’re going to go back to normal. I’m hearing a lot about changes that may or may not be coming on May 1 from the Governor’s office, I’m hearing a lot about the general public relaxing their standards. I’m going to encourage you to focus only on the things we can control, how we best keep each other and our residents safe, and what is in front of us today.

We continue to put the most stock in the reporting coming from the CDC, CMS, and the Kent and Ottawa Health Departments. While state wide numbers are showing some signs of decreasing (although still fluctuating), locally in West Michigan, we’re seeing a significant rise. Our personal experience is consistent with this report, as we’re seeing our own staff testing much more frequently, and within the last 10 days, have seen an increasing number of staff who are testing positive for COVID-19. It’s important to note, losing your sense of taste or smell has been a large indicator recently, and was just added to the CDC’s list of primary symptoms. The good news is we have not seen spread among staff at all, or to our residents. The staff who have tested positive are in different buildings, different shifts, and different departments. Most seem to be contracting it by living with someone who has been exposed through other essential jobs, and symptoms are minimal. This means our protocols are working! We just need to stay diligent in our use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), screening, and being self-aware of our symptoms. The bad news is; indicators are proving we have a long way to go. While more than anything, I’d like to say we’ll be returning to normal soon, I anticipate we have not seen our peak yet. Regardless of what the world is saying, we’re not going to be back to normal on May 1. Our residents still need us to be persistent in our efforts.

I understand that most of us are “over” social distancing, trust me, I’m with you. I know this letter is disappointing; I am disappointed too. I can assure you, myself, the staff, and the leadership are all tired and ready for this to be done. I know we want to do what is right, I know we want to take care of our residents in the best imaginable way, and I know we have the best people in the business, working on our campuses, who only want what’s best too. I know our Board of Directors support us, I know our families and residents want what’s best for our residents. These are the factors we have to focus on right now. When anxiety takes over, we have to search for the positives and find those shining lights that prove to us we are in God’s steady hands. He’s going to sustain us. We will begin to return to normal as soon as it’s safe.

While I’d prefer to ditch my personal social media accounts right now, I find my comfort in following Sunset Retirement Communities on Facebook. If you don’t follow us, give it a try – this is not a plug to get more followers, but it’s an easy way to see all the messages, pictures, and videos of the great things happening at our campuses right now, and the support and encouragement from the public is astounding.

Please take care and stay healthy,

Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer


April 13, 2020

Dear Family and Friends of Sunset,

It’s been 4 weeks since I sent my first COVID-19 letter. Social distancing has been hard for this family, just like it has been for yours, but thankfully we are doing well. We continue to focus on safe opportunities for life enrichment and connecting with our residents in a different way. As we learned late last week, there will be at least two more weeks of this. The best I can do is continue to encourage you, and hope that our preparedness and honesty provides some sort of comfort to you and your families. Here are some details you may find helpful:

  1. No COVID (+) residents on any campus.
  2. We had one positive staff at the SMV campus, who had very minimal contact, and was considered low risk for exposure. We continue to pray for a full and swift recovery for that individual. We assessed anyone who could have been exposed twice a day for two weeks, and I’m happy to say we had no symptoms in the 14 day exposure window. This is a very good sign that our processes have been successful.
  3. Our campuses have been social distancing at increasing levels for 4 weeks. All of these precautions lower our risk greatly. While this has been difficult for everyone, we continue to receive overwhelmingly positive feedback for the extra love, attention, and precaution the staff are providing to keep everyone safe.
  4. The last 4 weeks has allowed us time to collect PPE from a variety of sources. We have a supply on hand for all PPE, with much more ordered and due to be delivered in the coming days.
  5. We have implemented our protocols that allow us to work together to prevent and treat any future COVID (+) cases efficiently and effectively. In the event that we begin caring for someone with COVID we will deploy the necessary PPE, resources, and staff to Brookcrest. We believe that Brookcrest is the best location where we can not only keep our residents safe, but we can also best help and support our staff. Brookcrest provides the greatest opportunity to confine COVID patients to one unit with separate entrances. They have the highest skill in providing care to acutely ill people, and they have the best equipment already on hand. We will provide additional tools and support that may become necessary if this becomes a reality such as housing for staff decontamination, back up staff, PPE, etc. Please keep in mind, while Brookcrest will be the campus for COVID care, we will all be working to support them. This means continuing our precautions on all campuses to avoid spread and contact and by staff volunteering to work at Brookcrest on this unit, or other units, to ensure the best care and support.

All of us at Sunset are extremely grateful for your positive encouragement, your support, your donations of supplies and masks, and your grace. We will do our best to continue to provide regular communication about our efforts and pray that we’ll see you inside our doors once again very soon. Until we talk again, thank you. I wish you and your families the very best.


Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer


April 5, 2020

Dear Residents & Staff of Sunset Manor and Villages,

As you are aware, Sunset has been preparing for the coronavirus for the last month. Over the weekend, we had one confirmed case, and two suspected cases come to light on our Manor & Villages campus. First and foremost, we pray for the full recovery of these individuals and ask for God’s careful watch over the rest of us. Due to the spread in the greater Grand Rapids community, as well as our building, we are asking all residents and staff to monitor themselves even closer for the next 7 days. This includes:

  1. Symptom screening twice a day. Temperature, new/worsening sore throat, or shortness of breath.  If you have any of these symptoms, call the Manor office immediately.
  2. Deliveries to resident rooms will continue. Village residents must put a small table or chair outside of their door for mail, meals, and general store deliveries.
  3. Staff will continue with strict social distancing. The number of people coming into the building to work will be limited wherever possible.

All of our preventative measures will help limit the spread. We are well prepared, and our diligence will serve us well. Please stay positive and continue to lift each other in prayer. We are here for questions if you need us.


March 31, 2020

Dear Residents, Family, and Friends,

Thanks to everyone in the Sunset Family for continued prayers and well wishes during this COVID-19 crisis. We are all doing quite well at this point and have taken advantage of every minute of time to prepare for what is still coming. Today, we continue to have no COVID-19 cases in any of our buildings, however, we are fully expecting that to come soon. Local experts are all agreeing; the situations in New York and Detroit will be happening here in the coming days or weeks. This is scary, but we are doing our part. We are collecting as much personal protective equipment (PPE) as we can and we are setting up areas to treat patients with COVID-19 while keeping other areas of the buildings safe. We are preparing our staff. We are praying.

There are a few things however that we do need your help with:

  1. If you live within a Sunset community, please stay inside your apartment. There are too many residents continuing to gather in common areas. This is especially bad if you are also leaving the building for any reason.
  2. If you are a family member, please encourage your loved one to stay inside their apartment. We know this is incredibly hard, but we cannot have you coming into the building or picking up your loved ones for drives, visits to your house, or any other situation. These actions expose all of us inside the building to new germs. We will continue to follow our processes for laundry and groceries, but please do not overuse this. We have food, necessities, opportunities for healthy exercise, and life enrichment inside. We really need families to support us during this time.
  3. Friends of Sunset, continue to pray and provide encouragement through phone calls and do your part to stay home.

We are all experiencing the same loss and fear. Our staff are also not seeing their families, going to gatherings, or getting out as normal. We are all attempting to stay safe so we can care for the people here. We will continue to do our very best and provide updates via Facebook, One Call Now, and letters to residents.

Please take care,

Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer



March 19, 2020

Dear Residents, Family, and Friends of Sunset Senior Communities,

It’s been a week since our world’s started to shift. We are missing each other and getting used to social distancing, but overall we are doing well. COVID-19 is pushing all of us into unprecedented territory, but I hope everyone is being cautious without panicking. All of our staff have been working around the clock to ensure each of our campuses is up to date with the latest recommendations from local and national authorities. We are monitoring the CDC, the Kent and Ottawa Health Departments, and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. The good news is that Sunset Communities is very prepared for situations like this. We have long-standing systems for infection prevention, and those systems serve us well as we delve deeper into this outbreak. We also have the most amazing staff, plenty of resources, and above all, we know that at the end of the day, it’s the Lord who holds us all in His hands. I’d like to attempt to give you an overview of where we stand today. This information is somewhat general, and it’s important to note what we’re doing with you may vary from what your friends and family hear in other levels of care within the Sunset Community. We are currently making specific procedures that will vary by building, area of the building, clinical need, and recommendations from governing bodies. For this reason, it’s best to contact your building directly if you have questions on process.

One of our biggest challenges today is that recommendations are changing frequently, sometimes hour by hour. That means we all have to stay flexible and patient with each other. We also can expect that things are going to get worse before they get better. Soon, we will begin to know people who test positive for the virus and unfortunately, we may even hear of it in our buildings, no matter how hard we try. Please keep in mind, the reason all of the precautions are in place is not because we think it won’t enter our buildings (even though that would be ideal), but to best contain it if it does. Also be prepared to hear stories of false exposures, as that sometimes happens in the face of fear. Our commitment to you is to be open and honest at all times, so don’t hesitate to ask if you have any questions or concerns.

Each one of our campuses is practicing social distancing, screening for symptoms, and monitoring. We spend most of our days making sure we are prepared for the future (which we are), we practice different scenarios, and above all, we are trying to help our residents cope with having limited access to others. Fortunately, that part comes naturally as you can’t stop the dedication and love we have for each other.

Please continue to wash your hands and distance yourself socially. If you find yourself with extra time, please join me in praying for our world leaders, our residents, our neighbors, our families, and our staff. As the world shuts down, our staff wake up early, they make provisions for their families, and they come to work ready to serve others. They stay late, they come in on their days off, and they love what they do. In this time of uncertainty, we’re all doing our very best. Thank you for being our partners in looking out for one another. We’ll keep in touch regularly. Stay healthy and take care.


Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer


March 12, 2020

Dear Residents, Families, and Friends,

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves and more communities are experiencing outbreaks, Sunset Senior Communities has decided to LIMIT visitors and vendors for essential services only, as well as restrict all volunteers to all campuses.

Per CMS guidelines, limiting is defined as not allowing non-essential individuals to come into the facility, except for certain scenarios, such as end-of-life situations or when a visitor is essential for a resident’s emotional well-being and care. We ask that you contact the facility your loved one resides at to speak with a staff member to determine the eligibility of your visit if you feel it is absolutely necessary.

This decision was not made lightly, as we are very aware of the importance and benefit of visits from family members and friends, but the most important factor is to maintain the health and safety of those we care for within the Sunset Senior Communities. The impact of this virus has proven to be severe amongst the elder population and those with co-morbid conditions (heart failure, chronic kidney disease, cancer, diabetes, etc.) and ultimately guided us to this decision.

Sunset Senior Communities will continue to communicate with any further updates as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve. If you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to reach out to the Executive Director or Director of Clinical Services for the campus in which you or your loved one resides.

Thank you so much for your understanding and cooperation,

Christina Matzke

Chief Operating Officer

Sunset Senior Communities