Being away from a loved one is never easy. Being apart from them during a pandemic can be downright nerve wracking.
As our nation closed down in March, and we all worked to make sense of our new normal, the management and staff at Seashore Gardens Living Center (SGLC) leapt into action.
They knew the residents of SGLC were among the most vulnerable for the virus. They also knew that following the CDC guidelines to the letter would help to protect them. Yet the administration and staff foresaw another complication of the virus, and it had nothing to do with physical health. The social emotional toll of isolating from others was concerning to all. That’s when SGLC put into place a multi-faceted way for residents to connect with staff, with friends at the Home, and with their families near and far.
Special Deliveries to Brighten Your Day!
Director of Recreation Missy Rundio has been working in our Activity Department for 24 years. Over the years, she has had to be creative to keep residents engaged, and the pandemic has been no exception. Faced with a directive to suspend group activities, Missy and her staff have created traveling carts with different themes to keep residents engaged while in their rooms.
These include coffee carts, ice cream truck carts, and taco carts. The staff did Love Song trivia with a love/soul train theme. They delivered packets with instructions for art projects. During National Nursing Home Week, the staff brought London, France and Holland to each room. Residents enjoyed fresh baked scones, received flowers, and made crafts to display in their doorways. In addition, staff deliver Daily Chronicles every day with quotes and stories from other residents to keep everyone connected.
Traditionally, monthly birthdays were celebrated with a large group gathering on the Boardwalk. The recreation team built a festive mobile birthday cart to bring the party directly to the residents. Now they arrive with birthday cupcakes, balloons and huge smiles behind masked faces, in a true celebration of life.
The Magic of Video Chats
Administration and staff knew that video chats, which had been used in the past to communicate with families across the country, could be a valuable resource for all families during the pandemic. It was a wonderful way to connect when you couldn’t visit in person with loved ones.
SGLC staff members assisted residents with making the calls via iPads. At first a bit leery of the technology, the residents became mesmerized by “the magic” of it. Some tried to reach out and touch the images on their screens. It was transformational for many.
“We did Skype, Facetime, Zoom, seven days a week at the beginning of the pandemic, from 9 am to 3:30 pm, and we accommodated working families in the evenings,” said Social Worker Katrina Schnepp, CSW, CDP. “I enjoy it because I’m getting to know the families so much more, and they get to know the staff taking care of their loved one. It’s a really nice way to keep everyone connected.”
The Facetime calls are a lifeline for many families. The chats are made possible through the June M. Cohen Family Connection Fund. Because of that fund, SGLC was able to complete WiFi through the entire building and purchase a large screen, 70-inch IN2L computer system.
Mobile Birthday Celebrations
The IN2L computer is the centerpiece for mobile birthday celebrations for our residents. Our activities staff bring cupcakes, birthday balloons and signs to the resident in his/her room. They then set up the computer for a birthday chat by Zoom with loved ones. For example, Phillip celebrated his 97th Birthday with a Zoom call on our IN2L computer in his apartment with four generations of his family. Claire turned 100 years young and enjoyed flowers, cards, a beautiful pink birthday cake made by our dietary staff and a video chat and FaceTime with family in Florida and Philadelphia and Margate. Of course, Frank Sinatra provided the background music on the IN2L computer. She is still raving about her birthday and how lucky she was to be with her entire family!
In June, SGLC was given clearance for in-person porch visits with masks and social distancing requirements. It was an emotional reunion for all. Social worker Katrina Schnepp describes the first time she accompanied a resident on a porch visit.
“Nina was very excited to see her family,” said Katrina. “She didn’t know what it was going to be like, and neither did I. But just opening the doors and getting her outside into the fresh air and the sunshine was already wonderful. As we got her closer to the table, I got chills—and tears in my eyes. Nina was so happy, and so was her family. You would never have known that there was all of this craziness in the world. The love in their eyes, the emotion, was so powerful.”
When Barbara Makoski visited her mother, she said “We both cried. She was crying. I really was crying. She was very happy to see me. She said it’s stupid you can’t come in here. She’s very touchy feely, and likes to hug and kiss. We hated not being able to do that.”
However, they were able to connect another way, and that was through song. Barbara’s mother started singing “I love you a bushel and a peck,” and Barbara joined in. “She sang it to me, I sang it to her, we sang together. This is what we do. My brother-in-law calls us the singing Colgans; when we get together, we sing all the old songs.”
Before COVID, Regina Moschik was used to visiting her mother five days a week. She immediately scheduled a porch visit when it became available. “It felt awkward in a small way,” she said. “You forget you have a limited time. It’s also hard to see her and not be able to touch her.”
Because the residents at SGLC are elderly, they often are hard of hearing and have poor eyesight. Some have dementia or Alzheimer’s. Those present additional challenges during porch visits when wearing masks and talking at an appropriate social distance. Yet both residents and staff have persevered.
“Masks are very important,” said Katrina. “Visitors are wearing masks and we encourage the residents to wear masks. I will ask them several times, are you okay? As long as we’re wearing our masks, and the families are wearing their masks, we are protecting the residents, which is so important.”
She reminds families that the demand for in-person visits is high. “Please be mindful that everybody wants a turn,” she said.
A Family of Families at SGLC
The pandemic has definitely changed how families interact at SGLC, and that’s true for the SGLC family as well. “We are finding the upside in this,” said Missy Rundo. “Losing a chance to eat together in the dining room, or participate in group activities could have launched residents into a depression. But instead, we’ve come together to stay busy and happy. Technology has helped us stay connected to our many families. The donations of masks and arts and crafts materials have buoyed us and lifted us up. Thank you to everyone who is helping us to enrich elder lives.”