For the first time since nursing homes went on lockdown for the COVID-19 pandemic, residents at Elmhaven East now get to hug their loved ones.
The nursing home’s “hug blanket” made its debut this week in the front lobby, where residents have been able to visit with relatives for about three weeks now.
Previously, nursing homes were encouraged to allow no visitors, but John Conner, Elmhaven administrator, said that changed when the U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services issued a notice that any nursing homes receiving Medicare payments must allow social contact for their residents.
“That’s good. We want to do that. We know the effects of isolation and loneliness, so I kind of appreciated the green light,” Conner said.
Previously, only end-of-life visitations were allowed.
Visiting relatives now can sit at a table with a plastic divider separating them from the Elmhaven resident they came to see. Tiffany Tyrell, activities director, coordinates the visits, which must be scheduled in advance. Visitors are required to wear masks during their visits, as are the residents, and they must have their temperature checked and answer a few screening questions. The visits are scheduled in 20-minute intervals on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
As expected, Tyrell said the residents were very happy to see their loved ones. The best part of the visits for her is seeing the big smiles on their faces when relatives arrive.
There have been four or five visitors each day since visitations began.
“There were some champing at the bit to get in here,” Conner said.
Bob Divine of Parsons was probably one of them. Tyrell said before COVID-19 restrictions began, Divine came to visit his wife, Marilyn, every day, sometimes multiple times each day. The couple not long ago celebrated their 60th anniversary.
“Every time she sees him, she has just the biggest smile,” Tyrell said.
Bob Divine was glad to see the addition of the hug blanket when he came on Friday morning. Tyrell helped Marilyn Divine stand up to the framed plastic partition with arm holes so that her husband could embrace her for a moment before they sat down to visit about her day.
Tyrell said Elmhaven’s dietary director saw a hug blanket on Facebook and shared it with her. She had the nursing home’s infection control specialist checked out the idea to ensure it would meet regulations, and then she built it herself after getting verification.
Elmhaven is planning another way to get social interaction with people outside the facility, albeit outside the building looking through windows. The nursing home will host trick-or-treaters from 2 to 4 p.m. on Halloween. Tyrell and other staff members will lead the costumed children around the building, where there will be candy baskets outside each resident’s window. The public is invited.
Conner said the Halloween event is a way to entertain the residents. Being stuck indoors without regular visits, Elmhaven’s residents enjoy any change of pace to their regular routines.
“Our residents will love to see kids of all ages,” Tyrell said.