CLARKSBURG — Nursing homes in West Virginia are innovating new ways to boost morale among residents and employees as visitation restrictions and other COVID-19 mitigation measures continue.
The novel coronavirus is especially devastating for older populations and those with chronic medical conditions. For that reason, skilled nursing facilities have implemented strict visiting procedures and ended group activities.
The employees who provide services to these residents on a daily basis are now coming up with new and creative ways to provide entertainment while also keeping residents safe.
At one facility in Fairmont, that means one-on-one walks with a staff member outside on sunny days, card games with a limited number of players to comply with social-distancing guidelines and staff members as “beauticians,” according to Jenn Frame, marketing and admissions director at Fairmont Healthcare and Rehabilitation.
“It’s hard for the residents, because we have a lot of residents that get daily visitors,” Frame said. “We’re trying to think outside the box to keep people busy, and entertained, and happy, and safe — safe most importantly.”
Activity carts at the facility offer residents puzzles, games, books, magazines and other activities, she said.
Providing new ways for guests to communicate with family and friends has also been a priority for facilities.
Stonerise Healthcare, whose facilities include River Oaks in Clarksburg and Meadowview Manor in Bridgeport, invested in new tablets to allow residents to use Zoom or FaceTime to communicate, said Stonerise CEO Larry Pack.
“We think it’s vitally important. West Virginia, we’re a very relational culture. We’re very family-oriented, very church-oriented; we value our friends,” he said. “It’s important to have that and to have that communication. It makes us all healthier; it calms us all down. It’s really one of the most important things we’re doing right now.”
Staff members also help residents with video calls at Fairmont Healthcare and Rehabilitation.
“When they get to FaceTime and see their family like that, that’s a nice part of my day,” Frame said.
Family and friends are welcomed to visit through a resident’s room window. Although the glass has to remain shut to prevent spread of infection, it can allow face-to-face interaction during phone calls, Frame said.
Gifts for residents can be left at the front desk, although they have to be held for two days as a safety measure, she said.
It is also important to maintain communication between staff and the family of residents, so they know what is going on each day in their loved ones’ world.
Family is welcome to call any time, and staff also makes weekly calls to update families on what is happening at the facility, Frame said.
“We set up ‘calling trees’ throughout our (Stonerise) centers,” Pack said. On the calling tree, members of each center’s leadership split the patient load and make calls to keep their families informed on what is happening and what their loved one is doing.”
Telehealth services with physicians also help keep traffic down within the centers, Pack said.
In addition to these internal changes, there are also external preparations happening with state and local agencies and the National Guard to prepare for a surge in virus cases. Long-term care facilities are a safe place to house patients who require care but are not infected with the novel coronavirus, Pack said.
To improve staff morale, one-time appreciation bonuses were provided to Stonerise Health team members, Pack said.
“It’s not only our skilled nursing folks, but our home health people, as well,” he said.
The community has also helped out, according to Frame.
Community members have donated masks to the Fairmont Healthcare and Rehabilitation facility. All staff members and residents are temperature-checked each day, but staff members still wear masks at all times to ensure there is no spread of the virus, as studies have indicated not all who have the virus are symptomatic.
Staff Writer JoAnn Snoderly can be reached at 304-626-1445, by email at email@example.com or on Twitter at @JoAnnSnoderly.