Staying social with window visitsAug 03, 2020 03:21PM ● By Cloie Sandlin
Local facilities carefully reopen to visits with families
As COVID-19 restrictions ease in Colorado, nursing homes and other senior living facilities are preparing to resume visits for families. Although visits won’t be the same as before the pandemic—at least until the threat of coronavirus has passed—local caregivers have come up with imaginative ways to keep seniors connected to loved ones and the outside world.
Valley Manor Care Center in Montrose is one of the few long-term care facilities arranging “sunshine visits.”
Sunshine visits allow residents to visit with loved ones outdoors and in person while wearing face masks. These socially distanced visits last about 30 minutes and are supervised to ensure compliance and safety.
Since they started at the beginning of June, schedules have been booked solid.
“It came at a good time with the weather, and their families were ready to see them!” said Life Enrichment Specialist Brandy Zavala.
Visits look a little different for memory care patients, with a physical barrier between residents and visitors.
“My visits are done through a gate because my residents don’t understand that they can’t touch their loved ones,” said Memory Care Director Brandi Valdez.
Maintaining social distance is challenging, especially for residents and families who are accustomed to each other’s embraces. Visits often evoke a rollercoaster of emotions.
“They’re never long enough,” said Zavala. “We have some visits where I get to see families laugh with residents, and then I see those tears when they have to go. I know they want us to say, ‘It’s okay. You can hug them,’ or ‘It’s okay to bring your dog.’ But to be the person to say no when they’re dying for a hug, it’s hard to choke out.”
What’s most important is that the facility remains COVID free, despite the hardships social distancing creates.
Lois, a resident at The Homstead at Montrose, uses an iPad donated by Region 10 to chat with her family on her 89th birthday.
Facilities like La Villa Grande Care Center have relied heavily on technology to keep families connected.
Admissions and Marketing Director Lisa Smith said video chat services such as Zoom have helped residents stay connected with friends and family, and even revived long-distance relationships.
“There are residents who don’t want to or can’t get out of bed to see visitors, and some have family members who live out of state. For them, Zoom calls are terrific!” said Smith.
Telecommunication services also extend to doctor appointments. For La Villa residents, physician visits are being conducted almost exclusively via telehealth.
While Zoom calls are valuable, window visits are especially popular among residents since they can see loved ones in person through a window while talking on the phone.
For hearing-impaired residents, Valley Manor secured an amplifier from one side of the window to the other, making communication a little easier.
“We’ve still got families who prefer connecting through window visits because it’s more of a controlled atmosphere,” said Zavala. “Weather isn’t an issue, and not having to wear a mask is a big plus. A lot of our residents need to lip read, and they just want to look at their family members’ faces.”
Window visits are also ideal for visiting with pets and small children.
Kids and adults alike jumped at the opportunity to wave to their loved ones as they paraded outside several local facilities in their vehicles. These socially distanced parades lifted everyone’s spirits.
Dozens of cars lined up in the parking lot at La Villa Grande Care Center for a Father’s Day parade. Cars slowly drove by, while families held colorful signs with messages of love and hope. Crossroads Senior Living in Delta also hosted parades for its residents.
Similar messages popped up at facilities around the Western Slope—on sidewalks written in chalk, and attached to gates surrounding facilities.
“Being in a three-story short-term rehab building, we have gotten creative by putting signs in the windows and using chalk art,” said Shelby Meilinger, marketing manager at The Center at Foresight in Grand Junction.
At the beginning of the pandemic, Valdez introduced pleasure event therapy (PET), giving families of memory care patients a list of items to drop by, including photographs residents could look through and reminisce.
“When those residents are really missing their loved ones, we pull out that box of goodies and we can sit down and visit with them. It’s another way that Memory Care has been trying to connect them back to their families,” said Valdez.
All facilities’ staff eagerly await the day that residents can be reunited with their loved ones without restrictions and barriers. In the meantime, window visits, Zoom and parades ensure the safety of their residents.