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Staff members help keep seniors, loved ones connected

Northeast Ohio Catholic Magazine

July 20, 2020

The following story was featured in the July/August edition of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine. Read the entire digital edition HERE.

Countless senior citizens were confined to their rooms in nursing homes and assisted living facilities throughout the coronavirus pandemic.

At Mount Alverna Village in Parma, staff members stepped up their game to ensure the seniors were safe, engaged and connected throughout the health crisis.

“We are their bridge with their families and our families are very involved with the residents,” said Beth Baszuk, who handles admissions and marketing.

Mount Alverna, which houses nursing home, assisted living, memory support and some independent living residents, joined other facilities across Ohio when it went into lockdown and suspended in-person visitation in mid-March, according to state-issued safety guidelines. Masses, liturgies and prayer services in the facility’s chapel also were suspended for several weeks, except for Easter and Mother’s Day, when they were livestreamed.

“Residents were very grateful when they could start attending Mass and receiving Communion again on Pentecost,” Beth said.

During the lockdown, staff members kept watch over the residents, delivered their meals and ensured their needs were met, as well as helped them stay in touch with their families through FaceTime and other platforms. Also, landlines were installed in each room so residents could phone their loved ones.

“Each afternoon at 2:30, we have a ‘dance party,’” Beth said. Residents stand in their doorways and dance for a few minutes while music plays over the speakers.

The staff got creative and adapted other games and activities so residents could follow along on their televisions — with the same channel used for livestreaming Mass. They even found a way to call bingo games throughout the facility while residents played from their rooms.

“Thank goodness for technology,” Beth said.

As the weeks of isolation continued, Patrick Welsh, Mount Alverna’s executive director, wanted to find a way to help residents connect in a more personal — yet safe — way. After discussions with staff members, they decided to have the maintenance department build two tall, Plexiglas booths called “Chatter Boxes,” which were installed on a concrete pad on either side of the facility’s front doors. They can be reserved by residents for halfhour no-contact visits with loved ones and have been very popular. Staff members clean them after each session.

A resident is escorted to the Chatter Box by a staff member and sits inside while visiting with loved ones. One resident even used a Chatter Box to celebrate her 93rd birthday with her family.

Beth said both the residents and their families are grateful for the innovative, safe way to visit.

Read our guide to senior living in the current edition of Northeast Ohio Catholic magazine.

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