An Unprecedented Internship: Living in a Retirement Community during COVID-19

While most USC Leonard Davis students had their internships pivot to a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson Rubio Argueta’s internship site, Kingsley Manor Retirement Community in Los Angeles, was also his home.

While most USC Leonard Davis students had their internships pivot to a virtual setting due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Nelson Rubio Argueta’s internship site, Kingsley Manor Retirement Community in Los Angeles, was also his home. Rubio Argueta, who completed his Master of Arts in Aging Services Management degree this year, discussed his unique experience and what it meant to him to help Kingsley Manor residents during such an extraordinary time.

Q: Before the pandemic, what did a typical day look like for you at Kingsley Manor? What activities were you involved in at the facility?

A: Before COVID-19, I spent the majority of my internship interacting [with the residents] and conducting activities with them. I had my lunch and dinner with residents in the communal dining room; I would visit some of the residents in their rooms and enjoy a movie and coffee. I was in charge of helping the residents with technology. The main focus of this internship is for students to interact and form relationships with residents. It provides a unique insight into what it’s like to be a resident in a senior housing facility.

Q: Since the start of the pandemic, what kinds of things have you been involved in to address loneliness, facilitate physical distancing, and so on among residents?

A: At Kingsley Manor, how we can create opportunities to help residents interact with others and provide coping skills to maintain good mental health is a daily topic. Currently, we are using a lot of online video call platforms, such as Zoom and Skype, to allow residents to stay in communication with their family members and friends. We are delivering meals to their rooms to assure that they maintain safe distancing measures when eating, since mealtimes are when residents [would ordinarily] interact the most, in the communal dining room. We are also providing individual activities and wellness packets with magazines, coloring pages, simple workout routines, etc. delivered to their rooms, among other things. I have taken advantage of the free museum tours offered by various museums and show them to the residents. Technology has been the number one tool to ease the burden of social isolation.

Q: How did you first become interested in gerontology and senior living?

A: I became interested in gerontology after taking an elective course on social gerontology during my undergrad program at Cal State LA. That class was actually taught by my current preceptor, Shaun Rushforth [MS ’08, executive director of Kingsley Manor]. During this class, I was very surprised to see the passion of my preceptor and [to learn] that he’d also completed a live-in internship at Kingsley Manor. After I graduated with a bachelor’s in public health, I knew I wanted to get a master’s, but I wasn’t sure what subject to choose. I remembered this class with my preceptor, and I emailed him for an informational interview. He accepted, and I came and shadowed him the entire day. That day, there were residents in the garden doing an exercise class, people in the dining room having coffee, and others hanging out by the flowers. Seeing those things changed my view on senior housing; it made me want to live here. That day, I asked my preceptor if the internship was still available, and I decided to apply to the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology. … I could not be any happier with my experience.

Q: How do you think this experience will shape your career going forward?

A: This experience has taught me that working in senior housing requires professionals to be able to adapt and be creative when new challenges arise. Every day is different, and we are working with a vulnerable population that we must protect. [We need to] ensure that they are having a good quality of life. We must be able to advocate for residents, but also let their voices be heard.