There’s no doubt about it: the worldwide COVID-19 outbreak is causing an increase in stress and anxiety across the board. Stress levels may be even higher for families with elderly loved ones, for whom the illness poses the greatest risk.
At the start of the outbreak, United Hebrew of New Rochelle implemented a number of safety measures to protect the health and safety of its residents and staff, including a strict no-visitation policy.
“There is a heightened anxiety for some of the residents’ families who are finding it difficult to be physically apart from their loved ones,” says Maria Hood, a licensed social worker who serves as United Hebrew’s director of admissions. “They worry about their health as the physical separation can have an emotional impact.”
United Hebrew Embraces Technology
To fill the void left by family members visits, United Hebrew’s recreation team has initiated virtual visits via FaceTime and Skype. Carrie Deppong, director of recreation, is serving as the lead on scheduling and facilitating the calls, which provide a visual check-in. The visits have been so successful, they will become a permanent offering, even after the no-visitation policy has ended, she says.
“It’s been wonderful to see our elderly residents respond to seeing their families on a digital device,” says Deppong. “It’s helped in unexpected ways, too. For residents with communication barriers for whom regular phone calls are challenging, the tablet has provided a whole new way to communicate.”
And their reactions have been priceless.
“Another bonus is now that schools are closed, residents are able to virtually visit with grandchildren who are confined at home. Family members who regularly visited are grateful for the opportunity to ‘see’ their loved ones on a regular basis helping to maintain that connection.”
Deppong says that all of the time she has spent on the phone calls has helped her establish deeper connections with residents and their families.
“These calls serve as another touch point, and have in some ways helped us to establish even deeper connections with our families. It’s one more window into how they are feeling and coping.”
Innovative Programming a Plus
The recreation department has also increased the number of individual visits with residents, and has added programming on each nursing unit to entertain and engage them. St. Patrick’s Day festivities featured musicians strolling and caroling Irish favorites like “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling,” “My Wild Irish Rose,” “I’m Looking Over A Four-Leafed Clover,” and “What Would You Do With a Drunken Sailor,” among others.
Care and communication
What hasn’t changed at United Hebrew is the level of high-quality care and attention given to each resident. To reassure families that their loved ones are happy and safe, staff has increased outreach to them.
“We communicate as frequently as we can with families to assure them their loved ones are well-cared for. We treat our residents like family, whether we have a crisis or not,” says Hood. “We are also watching our residents for any signs of anxiety. If we notice anything, we immediately let our care team know and they spring into action.”
That hand off of information to the interdisciplinary care team is vitally important in keeping residents healthy mentally and physically.
“Each and every staff member — from maintenance staff and dietary workers, to therapists, nursing staff and all the way up to our administration — is trained to report any changes in a resident’s behavior. And they do,” says Elaine Healy, MD, vice president and medical affairs director. “We so often are able to address concerns before they escalate and affect our resident’s health because of the communication channels we have established.”
Special consideration is given to residents with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairment, for whom the details of the outbreak may not be fully realized. “They do have a sense of things being different,” notes Hood. “It’s our job to make them feel cared for and safe. Our staff members are incredibly compassionate people who have extensive training. They know how to project calmness and warmth — kind words and warm smiles go a long way in establishing a sense of peace.”
“The overwhelming majority of residents seem to be handling the situation well, says Rita Mabli, president and CEO. “I’m hearing from residents that this is just another crisis to weather, considering everything they’ve experienced, from the World Wars to The Great Depression, and more modern events like 9/11. Their attitude is, ‘We’ll get through this.’ And we will.”