Virtual visits help seniors stay connected

Public health. As we collectively adjust to what is hopefully a temporary “new normal,” families with loved ones in nursing homes throughout the tristate area are using technology to visit virtually when the risk of an in-person visit – and COVID-19 – is simply too great.

23 Mar 2020 | 06:50

For most of us, to say that COVID-19 has upended our lives would be putting it mildly. The cabin fever created by simultaneously working from home and homeschooling the kids can quickly spike in close quarters, leaving many in search of relief.

But what about residents of nursing homes who depend on the emotional pick-me-up a visit from a loved one can bring? The novel coronavirus has all but eliminated their contact with the outside world.

As we collectively adjust to what is hopefully a temporary “new normal,” families with loved ones in nursing homes throughout the tristate area are using technology to visit virtually when the risk of an in-person visit is simply too great.

Jodi Pugliese, 67, of Milford, Pa., said she’s noticed a difference when she interacts with her mom via FaceTime versus when she talks to her dad on his flip phone.

“The quality of conversation and just the stress reduction of seeing somebody, as opposed to just calling them is huge,” Pugliese said. “I was really surprised at how I felt the difference.”

Her mother is a resident of Pennswood Village, an assisted living community in Newtown, Pa., and both of her parents are in their 80s, she said.

Though she doesn’t have a smartphone, her mother does have an iPad, and Pugliese said she will call her on her landline so she knows to set it up for a video call.

“We’re in the same room together now,” she said. “It’s much more engaging for both parties when you see each other.”

Describing her parents’ generation as having “ants in their pants,” Pugliese said she is constantly reinforcing the need to stay home to reduce the chance of contracting the virus.

“If you go on Facebook you’ll see there’s lots of memes of 30-somethings telling their parents, ‘Stay home Dad, don’t go out!’” she said. “Every day we have this conversation.”

At the Valley View Center for Nursing Care and Rehabilitation, in Goshen, N.Y., administrator Laurence LaDue said an iPhone has been leased for every nursing unit in the facility and the Google Hangouts app has been downloaded onto the devices for Android smartphone users.

Video chatting might not replace a physical visit, LaDue said, but it’s better than nothing. With 80 percent of deaths occurring among adults 65 years and older, and the highest percentage of severe outcomes occurring in people 85 years and older, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, social distancing is of vital importance.

“We have families that (would) come every day, and it’s been really tough for them,” he said. “Believe it or not, the visitation is almost as important to the family member as it is to the resident.”

For some, however, connecting through the Internet simply won’t do.

“There have been some families who have come and visited through the window,” LaDue said. “A resident had a birthday and the family came and sang 'Happy Birthday' to them outside the window and had some balloons.”

Unexpectedly, a few tokens of kindness have also arrived via the U.S. Postal Service, LaDue said.

“I received some letters from some students,” he said. “I got one from a third grader and another one that’s 10 years old. I’m going to be giving these to the residents so maybe they can have a little pen pal exchange with some of these kids.”

In New Jersey, Continuum Healthcare’s Chief Operating Officer Renee Pruzansky said that social distancing and limited family visitation have caused staff to get a little creative when it comes to resident activities.

“We’ve had hallway concerts, where they listen from their doorways,” she said. “The residents love all the one on one attention they’re getting with activities they used to do in groups.”

Pruzansky said staff members at the company’s Bloomingdale Nursing and Rehabilitation Center created a music video to help promote proper hand washing and slow the virus’ spread.

Cargando reproductor ...

In addition to social distancing, frequent hand washing is among the measures health officials are urging people to do to help turn the tide and contain the novel coronavirus.

We’re in the same room together now."
- Jodi Pugliese, Milford, Pa.