Alaska Pioneer Home in Anchorage opens to visitors after long lockdown

Flowers of different colors in front of the beige Anchorage Pioneer Home buildgin
The Anchorage Pioneer Home in July 2020 (Lex Treinen/Alaska Public Media)

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — An Anchorage home for older adults has reopened its doors to family members and others eager to see the residents after a lockdown of 11 months.

Anchorage Pioneer Home welcomed back visitors beginning Wednesday. The largest state-run assisted living facility closed to outsiders in March 2020 to protect its vulnerable residents from the coronavirus.

The state operates six homes serving nearly 500 Alaska residents ages 60 and older in Anchorage, Fairbanks, Palmer, Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan.

While some of the facilities have allowed visitors at points throughout the pandemic, high rates of community spread and several virus outbreaks among residents and staff kept the Anchorage home closed off until now.

“We haven’t had anybody coming in unless it’s family in a hospice or end-of-life type of situation,” Anchorage Pioneer Home Administrator Rich Saville said.

The decision to renew visitations followed a recent downward trend in coronavirus cases in the community, along with the vaccination of about 90% of current residents. About 50% of the home’s staff have been vaccinated, Saville said.

Families before visits resumed relied on phone calls and video to stay connected. Residents had the option of leaving the building, but most did not, Saville said.

“We’ve really tried to get our elders to stay in as much as possible. But of course they have free will and can leave,” Saville said. “Most of them have been super great about not going out.”

Staff members were also affected by the difficult task of keeping people away from their loved ones for almost a year.

“One of the consistent things I have said to people is, ‘I really have no idea what this is like for you, I can only imagine it’s got to be difficult,’ ” Saville said. “To see people come in to see their mom or dad, we feel like a weight’s been taken off our shoulders.”