Local | Mind, Body & Spirit | Senior Lifestyle

Video chats help local senior living facility residents stay connected during pandemic

Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging Community Outreach Coordinator Nanci Levy facilitates a recent video chat for resident Tony Eichorn. {Angela Salmon/Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging)

Senior living facilities in Southern Arizona and all across the country have been on lockdown for several weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, with non-essential visitors not allowed.

“This means no family and friends, and it also means no exercise teachers, musical performers, Shabbat service leaders, lecturers, Torah study leaders, or volunteers that Handmaker normally has on a regular basis,” says Nanci Levy, community outreach coordinator at Handmaker Jewish Services for the Aging.

“We also cannot have communal dining at this time. All of this can certainly be isolating, but residents can still visit six feet away from friends and neighbors in apartments nearby, and we have a full activity staff and others willing to pitch in to keep our residents entertained, and connected with family and friends. Every staff member wears a mask at all times, but most often residents can see from our eyes that we are smiling,” says Levy.

The connections with family members and friends are made with video calls through services such as FaceTime and Skype, says Levy.

“Residents and family members have enjoyed connecting in this way, and it is the next best thing when they cannot see each other in person. The residents are just amazed by this technology,” she says.

The six Starfish Care Homes in Tucson also use video calls to connect residents to family, says co-owner Ben Silverman, using Whatsapp, a service popular abroad and in Israel, in addition to FaceTime and Skype.

Starfish also creates video posts. “We’ll take videos of the people saying ‘hi’ and then share them with the family members by text or email,” Silverman says.

Some Starfish residents also have had “window visits,” which allow family members to see each other through a window. They chat either through a screened window that has been cracked open or on their phones, says Silverman. For safety’s sake, he tries to keep window visits to a minimum.

Starfish Care Homes each have a maximum of 10 residents, so residents have been able to socialize in the communal areas or outside in the pleasant spring weather. Silverman has been doing much of the shopping and other errands for the homes, to minimize the managers’ contact with the outside world during the pandemic, and to free them to spend extra time with residents “It’s better one of us than seven of us being out and about all the time,” he says.

Handmaker also has had residents receive window visits, says Levy, facilitated by nurses and caregivers.

Levy and other Handmaker staff provide activities to keep residents connected and engaged.

“We are live streaming Shabbat services, and thanks to Rabbi Batsheva Appel from Temple Emanu-El, we have borrowed the siddurim (prayer books) for those services as well as for the Passover Festival services,” she says.

Handmaker had to forego its group seder this year, but residents had the option to have solo seders in their apartments, with staff delivering seder plates, wine or grape juice, matzah, and a seder meal, along with a Haggadah and a packet of readings related to what people were dealing with this year during Passover.

A few residents participated in virtual services with friends and family.

“As far as keeping our residents busy and entertained,” says Levy, “with no Adventure Bus trips right now, Angela Salmon has channeled her creativity and enthusiasm into more culturally themed programs with Handmaker residents.” Salmon also has been setting up regular movie matinees, with a limit of 10 people in the room, and every one six feet apart, Levy adds.

“She also pitches in wherever needed with FaceTime calls and visiting residents who are lonely, and making sure residents get outside on beautiful days. We also still have exercise class and bingo every day except for Shabbat, but with the same rule of 10 to a room, and six feet apart,” says Levy.

Handmaker has added more art classes led by activity coordinators or Levy, and virtual museum tours from offerings online. They continue to have regular current events classes.

“This is a trying time for all, and we are trying to keep our residents as connected as possible. As we all keep saying, we are going to get through this,” says Levy.