A Conversation with Bonnie Barrella, Thomas Circle

This month, we had the chance to speak with Bonnie Barella, the Director of Sales and Marketing at The Residences of Thomas Circle. Thomas Circle is a senior living community located in the heart of DC. We are excited to share more about the opportunities available at Thomas Circle, one of Lifematters’ Flex Sites.

Tell me about your background/experience in senior living?

I transitioned into the industry 17.5 years ago. I was in another industry, but my father had Alzheimer’s, and so I transitioned into senior care. I started out in memory care and life enrichment, as a Director of Life Enrichment programming activities and a memory care specialist, and then evolved into sales. Then about 9 years ago I moved totally into sales and marketing.

It’s a passion, not a job. I enjoy interacting with the residents so much. We can interact on many levels; we all have common ground. We all like to communicate with people. They love to speak about their life and their history, what they did in their earlier career. It continues to drive me, it’s what keeps me from retiring. Even through the challenges of COVID, this interaction keeps me moving forward.

What are the advantages of being located in Washington, DC? How did that shape the mission of Thomas Circle?

Being in downtown DC, right where the action is, we do appeal to a more mobile, culturally-, intellectually-, and politically-oriented population. We take advantage of the city and what DC has to offer in terms of outings and programming. For example, Thomas Circle has a lecture series with local historians and professors coming to the community to speak on various topics. And our residents love that high level of engagement that we provide.

Additionally, being in a city setting, our services are very consolidated, although we are not a CCRC. We have independent living, assisted living, and memory care, and so we offer some of the same benefits of a CCRC without the upfront fee. However, we provide different levels of care through a traditional rental model. What’s unique about these three communities is that they are separate neighborhoods under one roof. So, if resident ever gets to the point where he or she need to further age in place with care, it’s all under one umbrella. There are minimal adjustments or reorientation. The resident is already familiar with the community and the environment. So having all three neighborhoods under one roof is a big plus, because you can plan for your future no matter what the future may hold.

How did COVID affect Thomas Circle? What measures do you have in place for Delta?

The mayor of DC has mandated that anyone in the healthcare industry must be vaccinated as of September 30th, 2021, unless there’s a medical or religious exemption, and the company, Senior Lifestyle, stands right behind this mandate. It’s all about keeping our residents safe and healthy.

We are still doing the necessary protocols in terms of maintaining hand sanitizing stations, wearing masks in common areas. We also have our Accushield system that checks visitor’s temperatures and asks COVID screening questions.

We are also a very secure building. You have to buzz to get in, so no person can walk in and out. That’s very important, especially since we are downtown and very walkable. Even during the day, in terms of buzzing in, the concierge must recognize you, ask you qualifying questions and then determine if she or he can enter or whether it is further escalated up to myself or the executive director.

How do you focus on health and wellness during COVID?

We have our partnership with GW Medical Faculty Associates in our lower lobby. They can see our residents in their apartments or residents can sign up to go see these clinicians.

And of course, our partnership with home care, like Lifematters, is very, very important because many residents, as time goes on, need help with their medications and other ADL services. That’s probably the primary concern either as soon as they move into independent living or soon after.

Are there any exciting upcoming services for Thomas Circle?

We have something every week that is a highlight of the week for our residents. For example, this Friday we have a happy hour and prospects can meet current residents and get a taste of Thomas Circle. We have wonderful appetizers and a specialty drink. It’s a great way to ask those questions that you may not ask me. You can talk with all the residents and get “a feel” for the ambiance and community life.

We also host fitness and exercise classes depending on the season, like water aerobics. Additionally, we have a lecture series and a lot of clubs that meet on a weekly basis, like Reading Club or Bridge Club. We are getting more people doing in-house events in terms of lecture series. We’re always adding new events and programs weekly because our residents come to us and say, I would like to see this event or that, sponsored by the community or the Resident Council. We even have nine or 10 Resident Ambassadors, called Welcome Ambassadors. These are longer term residents with all different backgrounds who are matched with new incoming residents. The Welcome Ambassadors may dine with them and orientate the new residents. The purpose is to make the transition to Thomas Circle as smooth and seamless as possible.

Any tips for seniors and their loved ones?

For those who have been putting off the decision for senior living, there’s no better time than now given the safety protocols and vaccination mandates. While you still have your health, you can enjoy the fine dining and programming that is available to you. Many times, people wait too late, and they cannot fully enjoy the community experience. There’s a saying that there’s no time like the present, and that’s the lesson here.