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Nursing homes work to keep residents safe, engaged
The Times Telegram - 4/7/2020
Apr. 7--Keeping residents safe and healthy during the coronavirus pandemic is the top priority for area nursing homes, but keeping their spirits up during this time of isolation is another and staff members are tackling it in a variety of ways, including games, activities and virtual and window visits.
A jelly bean guessing game is one of the activities at Valley Health Services, in keeping with the Easter season, according to VHS Administrator Kathleen Eisenhut.
"We're also creating photo Easter cards for residents to send to their families," she said.
The social services and activities staff members are in contact with residents and family members to see if they would like to arrange virtual meetings via social media.
"We have our own TV station, so we can put movies on that they'd like to see," said Eisenhut. "We have a building-wide bingo game using our overhead public address system."
A member of the activities staff makes announcements each day, giving the date, weather and other information and residents are challenged to identify the voice.
Plans are also in the works for a drawing activity with directions given over the public address system.
"They're socially isolated on their units," said Eisenhut. "We try to find ways to keep them engaged."
Overall, she said, the residents are doing well.
"We're hiring people," said Stephanie Benner, administrator at Alpine Rehabilitation and Nursing Center in Little Falls. "We have a lot of families who want to Skype with the residents. The residents have really taken to it. We're scheduling people and times. Most can't do it alone. We hired two people in activities to help -- keeping social distance."
The need to maintain social distance means communal dining or activities where residents are close together have had to be eliminated.
"That's a big blow to them, but they're doing OK," said Benner. "We try to do activities in their rooms and sometimes in a small group. I'm a little surprised, they're adjusting pretty well. The families are Skyping a lot and there are window visits.
"We're taking steps to keep the residents and staff safe. We don't let pharmacy in. We take the meds at the door."
A parade was planned in front of the building last week with people kept about 10 feet apart. Having a back courtyard at Alpine is also a plus when it comes to getting people outside, said Benner.
"A lot of places don't have a safe place for residents to be outside on their own. We have floor to ceiling glass and it's in a high traffic area. We can see them," she said.
Overall, she said, the residents seem to be adjusting to the situation.
"I thought there would be more issues. There are phones in every room, so they can talk to their families. A lot of the residents have cell phones and those that have them can generally handle them," said Benner.
Residents and staff are being trained about social distancing in the building. Still, some programs are being continued.
"We still have our walking program. They can walk or motor down the hall," said Benner.
Bingo continues, but in residents' rooms. New numbers are brought around each day and the residents look forward to it, said Benner.
She added, "This is so unprecedented. I'm proud of our residents and staff and families. Some families are worried. They're calling and Skyping."
The staff at Foltsbrook in Herkimer is also using social media and window visits to help residents stay in touch with loved ones, according to Angie Dorantes, activities director. An online service has been set up for families to schedule times to connect with loved ones digitally.
The Foltsbrook activities department also offers viral chapel services, online concerts, bingo and other favorite activities, while keeping people six feet apart.
"We try to keep everything going, but at more of a distance," said Dorantes. "We still do bingo; we have a good PA system."
She said it has been an emotional time. "It's hard because they (residents) want to be close together. They are family. They live together. They have family outside, but they're family here as well -- the residents and the staff," said Dorantes.
The entertainers who usually come can't come into the building, but some have recorded concerts that the staff can play. The staff has also found other concerts available.
"They listened to a 1984 Kenny Rogers concert," said Dorantes.
Some residents are dealing with memory loss, Dorantes pointed out.
"When someone sees their spouse (during a window visit), you realize how much they're missing them, that physical connection. It's a big loss right now," she said.
There won't be an Easter egg hunt this year, but families are invited to decorate cars and take part in a parade around the Folts block on Saturday so residents can watch from the windows.
"The health, safety and well-being of our residents is paramount to us at all of our facilities, and the health and safety of our staff," said Jay Lawrence, director of corporate business development of The Grand Healthcare System, which has multiple nursing homes including its Mohawk Valley facility in Ilion. "We're actively following the CDC, Department of Health and state guidelines."
That means closing the doors to visitors.
"Residents have the ability to interact virtually," he said.
The iPad program was available prior to the coronavirus pandemic, but is more utilized now.
"They can use Skype or Facetime. We've had a great response," said Lawrence.
He added, "We have bingo in the hall. We have the good will of our staff; they bring in guitars and instruments and serenade the residents. It puts a smile on people's faces and serves as a 'vitamin' for residents and staff as well."
"At one of our facilities, I believe it was at Mohawk Valley, there was Simon Says in the parking lot. Residents could look out from the windows," said Lawrence.
He added, "The staff members themselves are our heroes. The cleaning staff, the nurses -- they keep things safe and clean for the residents. In a nursing home you have to have order. People have to have their meds, they have to be bathed and fed on schedule.
"We've purchased Headspace for our staff -- guided meditation so they can have their moment and find a happy center and know that they too are important and working for the greater good."
He encouraged people to keep in touch with residents at The Grand and other nursing homes.
"Residents appreciate cards, emails, anything people can send so residents know folks are thinking about them. Schools are stopped. Maybe students could send some nice cards," said Lawrence.
Facebook messages are also appreciated, he said.
"We're all in this together," said Lawrence.
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