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Find creative ways to keep in touch with older loved ones

April 7, 2020

TUPELO – Families and friends are finding ways to keep in touch with loved ones in nursing homes and hospices even with stricter visitation policies.

At the Sanctuary Hospice House, patients have responded well to a recent trend of window visits, said Heather Palmer, director of outreach and fundraising.

Traceway Retirement Community of Mississippi Methodist Services, which serves about 140 residents in its skilled facilities, has also seen families come to windows with written signs and care packages.

Staff at both facilities are also looking at ways to encourage families to keep in contact with loved ones, whether that is helping elders Facetime or call their families and send photos. They also encourage families to call them with concerns and keep in contact with their loved ones.

“We know this is a hard time not being able to see your family,” said Kasie Wood, Traceway administrator. “We’re just coming up with creative ways all the time.”

The Mississippi State Department of Health considers long-term care (LTC) facilities like nursing homes to be high risk locations because residents are older or in poor health, making them more likely to have severe illness or death as a result of contracting COVID-19. As of Monday, there are 38 LTCs with outbreaks, meaning there is at least one case of COVID-19 among residents or employees.

Even before MSDH began reporting LTC outbreaks in its daily report, nursing homes in the Northeast Mississippi area already made sure their visitation policies were stricter to reduce the chances of an outbreak. Methodist Senior Services discontinued non-essential visitation to all 12 of its retirement communities throughout the state on March 19, and as of March 25, Sanctuary Hospice House, which provides 24-hour nursing care, changed its visitation policy to allow only immediate family and one visitor at a time in a patient’s room. Visitors must do temperature checks and a screening prior to visiting.

Palmer said it has been hard limiting visitation, but families have been incredibly understanding. The idea of window visits, where family members visit their loved one by standing or sitting outside their room window, has been popular on social media, and Palmer believes many families began doing them as a way to adapt to rule changes while still seeing their family members.

“They understand that we’re trying to keep their loved ones safe, that we’re trying to keep them safe, that we’re trying to keep our staff safe,” Wood said. “(Window visits have) been unique for us, but it’s definitely something that seems to be trending everywhere and it’s just being really socially responsible.”

Sanctuary Hospice has seen more than 10 window visits. Because of the nature of their work, which is providing care for the dying, families usually call ahead of time before visiting, often writing encouraging notes through the window and interacting with their loved one. Right now, they ask that no visitors under 12 enter, and have seen many families adapt by having children see their relatives through the window.

Wood said Traceway had meetings with its elders to discuss what is happening and explain why current measures are being taken. Since residents miss their families, she said it was important to them to find ways to make sure families are still connected somehow.

They started by having residents do white board messages more than two weeks ago. Elders who want to participate write messages, and sometimes jokes, in order to take a picture with the message and have it posted on Traceway’s Facebook page.

“We immediately had families that (asked), ‘Can you take one of my mom?’ ‘Can you take one of my dad?’ so we’ve been doing them more and more,” Wood said. “… Some of them are really funny, what they’ve come up with to say, and the families have really enjoyed seeing them.”

They’ve also tried to keep residents’ spirits up by hosting karaoke with elders, spread-out bingo, and other activities. Residents have also enjoyed an outdoor concert, where Seed Tick Road played in the pavilion as residents followed social distance guidelines and sat away from the band and each other.

“We’re loving on our elders. We’re taking care of their family members, and we want them to feel safe that their family is here. We want them to be at peace with their family being here,” Wood said.

She encouraged people to call her or any Traceway staff with any questions or concerns.

Members of Comfort Creatures of Northeast Mississippi have visited both Traceway and Sanctuary Hospice, and Palmer said patients have enjoyed seeing the therapy dogs and their owners.

“It really does warm their hearts,” Palmer said.

Local companies have given Traceway donations of pizza, snacks, crosswords and game sheets. Churches have also brought small donations, and the community printed daily devotionals.

Residents of Sanctuary Hospice House saw an uptick in the amount of cards and coloring sheetings sent from children, and churches and organizations have donated snacks and nonperishable items, Palmer said. Most recently, they received donations of alcohol, sprayers and safety glasses from Toyota Mississippi.

As a nonprofit, she said they rely on donations. She also asks for families in their home hospice program to reach out to them with any needs they may have so they don’t have to risk exposure while shopping, and asks for food donations for their patients. They also ask for donations of extra cleaning supplies, gloves, and masks in order to keep their patients, families and staff safe during this time.

“Most of those supplies are going to the frontlines, and we totally understand that,” Palmer said. “… We just need to have some supplies here to keep us going. Right now, we have enough … to get us through the near future, but just like everyone, we’re a little concerned.”

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