Wacky Welcomes

Assisted living, senior centers get creative during COVID-19 crises

Staffers bring joy to residents wit
unusual family visits

(August 2020) – Joy is elusive, often found in unexpected ways or unexpected places. COVID-19 stay safe orders brought quarantine-in-place to senior living facilities. Visitors and family members were forbidden to enter, with few exceptions. As a result, many seniors were isolated from family and friends, sometimes even restricted from leaving their rooms or apartments. It’s hardly an environment conducive to finding any joy. This new environment affected not only the residents, but the staff as well. 
However, local creative leaders and staff took matters into their own hands and created joy for their staff and residents. Special activities and events included parades, both in the halls and out on the street. Themed dress-up events, window visits from families and pets, and something as crazy as bright colors sprayed on hairstyles.
“Our job is to bring joy; to think outside the box,” said Sierra Headrick, Life Enrichment Director for River Terrace Health Campus in Madison, Ind. “My job is also to be the cheerleader for our facility.”

Photo provided

Staffers and family organized a car parade of friends and family to celebrate Connie Rhoten’s birthday at River Terrace in Madison, Ind. Charles Rhoten is also pictured.

Activities at River Terrace have included inside parades where staff wore crazy outfits such as a flamingo and guy on a horse. Spirit weeks are another favorite. One week, residents were offered bright temporary colored hair spray – pink or purple. For Cinco de Mayo, the staff dressed in costumes and brought a margarita cart, mariachi music and dancing throughout the halls. 
The Rhoten family worked with Headrick to organize a car parade of friends and family to celebrate Connie Rhoten’s April birthday. Mother’s Day brought another car caravan with friends and families of many residents. Now that restrictions are starting to loosen, residents enjoy scheduled visits outside in the new courtyard that includes porch swings, fountains and a place to relax with bare feet in the sand. Residents also enjoyed a recent squirt-gun water fight. 
“If you can make just one person smile, your job is done,” said Dianna Resendiz, Activities Director at Hanover (Ind.) Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. A full-scale parade brought many smiles to the residents who were assembled outside, six feet apart in rows. 
Chris Albertson of Amedisys Home Health and Hospice played music and sang for the 30-40 residents as they waited for the parade to begin. The parade included fire trucks, police cars, cars driven by members of the Classic Car Club, families and friends driving cars with signs, and one resident’s step-mom seated on the back of a convertible, beauty-pageant style. Shane Caldwell, Hanover’s Police Chief, helped get the parade organized. 

Photo provided

River Terrace staff members (from left) Sierra Headrick, Cindy Ramsey and Jennifer Massie get into the spirit of Cinco de Mayo and entertain residents in May.

“The Chief Caldwell and the Hanover Fire Department were amazing,” Resendiz said.
The quarantine restrictions have been hard for some residents to understand. To bridge the gap in visits, staff help residents to place video calls to connect with family members. Planned activities have included playing hallway bingo and Hungry Hippo using wheelchairs. Staff members push residents to catch bouncy balls using a basket attached to a mop handle. Yahtzee is another favorite game. Water balloon fights provide cooling entertainment on hot days. “They love it. We try to do a lot for them,” Resendiz said proudly. One resident with dementia is entertained daily by her husband who sings and performs skits. Happy Hour brings treats like snow cones and ice cream floats. Women are treated to a manicure every Friday, and men can have their nails groomed. “We want to give them time and attention to feel good about themselves,” Resendiz explained.
“This Goshen community is really supportive. They have done a lot for our residents. They come to sing, even if they don’t have family members here,” said Kim Nuss, Resident Relations Coordinator, at BeeHive Homes of Goshen, KY.  One person brought his dog in a hot dog costume to visit outside the windows. Jamie Miller, a local volunteer, brought her horse, Walker, to each window of the one-story facility. It was an older horse that was calm and gentle. Walker was a big hit with each resident who enjoyed seeing a horse looking in their window. Another family brought a huge cupcake-shaped sign, with a large Happy Birthday message.

Photo provided

Jamie Miller brings her horse, Walker, to BeeHive Homes in Goshen, Ky., to entertain the residents there.

At BeeHive, the in-house chef prepares a favorite meal and decorates a cake to celebrate each resident’s birthday. The staff decorate the door and hallway of the resident as well. Another resident plays the piano so everyone can sing “Happy Birthday.” Families and friends sent flowers and gifts. They often watched through the window as those gifts were opened. Residents have access to both a tablet and a shared computer. The staff helped set up Zoom calls to stay connected with friends and family. “The staff know the residents well and are able to help set up these personal calls,” Nuss explained.
At Fairview Senior Living in Carrollton, KY, Allie Wilson, Executive Director has used her personal cell phone to help residents connect during window visits. The staff prepare weekly packets with crossword puzzles, colored pencils, word games and word search activities. The packets give residents something new to anticipate each week.
Each director praised the support of family members and community volunteers who make the time to do special things for staff and residents.  Sending greeting cards, small gifts and notes as well as telephone calls all make a visible difference in the residents. Reflecting on what drives all these extra efforts, Resendiz put the commitment into words when she said, “Residents are family.” Her words echo across each facility, in both words and deeds.

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