COVID-19 has changed most aspects of daily life. Everything from eating out to going to the movies has a new normal—don’t do it. For residents of long term and post-acute care centers, the challenge is especially hard. Not only must they stay inside the building, but they often must stay in their rooms or apartments to protect themselves.

Staff share a unique challenge of keeping up with the constant wave of changes from the government in managing the disease, while building hope and keeping anxieties in check to care for the most vulnerable. 

Robert Van Dyk, president and chief executive officer of Van Dyk Health Care, wanted to offer the residents and staff at Van Dyk Park Place, an assisted living community in Hawthorne, N.J., home care services clients of At Home With Van Dyk in Ridgewood, N.J., and clients of the Van Dyk Memory Care Center in Hawthorne (adult day care) something special as they dealt with the present-day challenge. So he tapped his chief operating officer to put together a special event designed for residents and staff alike.
The result was “When Broadway Goes Dark Van Dyk Goes Live, virtual edition,” a one-hour concert featuring songs performed by a cast of Broadway stars, including Catherine Brunell, Natalie Cortez, Nick Spangler, and James Moye. “If our families are not allowed to visit Broadway, then we’re bringing Broadway to them,” says Van Dyk.  “We’re all feeling the effects of social isolation. We need music in our lives, especially now. We’re hoping that this virtual show is a creative and fun way to remind our staff and our families how much we care for them.”

How They Did It

The show was the third Broadway concert hosted by Van Dyk Health Care. The first two were live, in-person concerts performed on stage for Van Dyk residents and families. The first concert was performed at Park Place, and staff arranged for a sound system and stage inside the facility. 

“The response was so great that the second year, we rented the performing arts center in Englewood, New Jersey,” says Van Dyk. “And now we have COVID so we’re not able to do this one live, but Natalie and Nick and James and Catherine cannot wait to come back and perform for the residents and staff.”

James MoyeWhen planning the first event, Michael Wissot, chief operating officer at Van Dyk, reached out to Moye, his friend, and explained what they wanted to do.

“His eyes immediately lit up, and we started painting from a blank canvas,” says Wissot. “We were trying to imagine what’s the right format, the right number of performers, and the right songs. And that’s where the fun began because we were able to put together a program that allowed people to connect, especially to the theme of Alzheimer’s awareness.”

The first two concerts were designed for the residents. So staff asked the residents which songs they’d like to hear and came up with a list that was shared with the performers, along with a list of Van Dyk employees and the different departments.

“Songs like, ‘It All Fades Away,’ ‘You Will Be Found,’ and ‘Memory,’ they really strike a chord for the residents but also the family members,” says Wissot.  The concerts hold special meaning for the performers, too—Moye, Brunell, Cortez, and Spangler all have family members who have been affected with Alzheimer’s disease in some way.

New Challenges

From the idea to production, it took about three weeks to put the virtual event together. “It would have taken shorter under normal circumstances because we had to remind ourselves we had to focus on continuing to anticipate and adapt to the precautionary measures that we needed to put in place in order to keep residents safe,” says Wissot.

Catherine BrunellThis meant putting work on the virtual event to the side to deal with other COVID-19 priorities as they arose. “I was not readily available during the traditional hours, and thankfully the performers were very flexible and adapted to my schedule,” he says. 

Keeping the event virtual also meant figuring out the Zoom platform and ensuring that all performers were able to produce it from their own homes individually. In each case the team adjusted for sound and quality to achieve an ideal balance.

“Of course that’s difficult because each performer had their own set-up at home. None of them, of course, anticipated that they would need sophisticated equipment, but everyone worked together and communicated the whole way through, and we came up with something really unique,” says Wissot.

Watching Together, Individually

Using a technology platform available via television in residents’ rooms and around the centers, residents watched the performance from inside their rooms. The platform is typically used to post announcements, schedules, and menus, and it was a first for the Van Dyk team to share the concerts with the platform. 

Natalie CortezThe concert was made available on social media so that families and staff could also watch. “It is really important to make sure that everybody feels included in these kinds of experiences,” says Wissot. “One of the great things about going to a show is the conversations you have afterwards about what you thought about it. We wanted to let everyone know that we were at this concert together.”

In the same way they had reacted to the first two concerts, residents and staff enjoyed the performances immensely, says Van Dyk. “The reactions are always amazing, when the performers come to the community, the residents want to get up and dance,” he says. “And there is such a bond between the performers because they all have grandmothers, grandfathers, aunts, or uncles with dementia. The residents love it, families love it, and [the singers] love to see what we do for their parents.” Van Dyk says he’s received many thank you letters from families.

As the first two concerts were designed for residents, performers read out dedications to residents. For the virtual concert, the performers dedicated songs to different staff teams.

Focus on Staff

COVID-19 has brought challenges and worries to almost everyone, says Van Dyk. “The residents struggle at one level, but they are being cared for every day,” he says.

Nick Spangler“But what we are going through now is really hard on the staff. Every day they come in and they have personal worries, they worry about their children back at home, they worry about their spouse who in most cases is unemployed at home. They worry about bringing COVID home to their family; we in turn worry are they going to bring COVID in. So we are doing whatever we can to help staff recognize how important they are. Long after COVID becomes part of our history, our staff will be remembered as the heroes of this pandemic.” 

As Van Dyk pens his Easter note to families, the topic is about sacrifices. “And staff are making sacrifices,” he says. His advice is to do everything and anything possible for staff, as small as it may seem. “I’ve been sending bushels of oranges up to my communities,” he says. “One, because they are delicious, and two because they help build up your immune system. And we just sent about 400 chocolate Easter bunnies up to the staff. It says, ‘Thank you, we’re thinking about you, you’re not alone.’”
To watch the virtual concert, visit: