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WHILE VISITATION IS OFF LIMITS at Ohio nursing homes, staff are facilitating the use of cellphone apps to keep families connected, along with messages on their windows (above). Below, Velma Stearns, a Taylor Place resident, holds a message for her family that reads “Miss Seeing You! I hope we’ll be together soon! With love, Mom.” (Photos provided)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

The outbreak of coronavirus has forced most Americans to get out of their comfort zones, and senior citizens are no exception.

While FaceTiming loved ones might not be their traditional — or preferred — method of communication, local nursing home facilities say their residents are adapting nicely to a new technological normal. At the same time, they’re embracing the return of a more simple exchange of cards and letters from family and friends who cannot visit in person.

About mid-March, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a sweeping order halting all nursing home visitation to help slow the spread of COVID-19.

Chris Widman, executive director of Fostoria’s Good Shepherd Home, said, “We are doing the best we can to adjust to the current, temporary environment.” Much of that involves assisting older residents with cellphone apps like FaceTime.

“Frankly, a lot of our residents are not used to this type of communication. They are excited to see their loved ones, so they are embracing this new technology.”

Widman added he has been heartened to see families continuing to drop off special items to residents, such as bouquets of flowers, favorite meals and everyday essentials.

“The families are still staying connected,” he said.

To help keep children and grandchildren abreast of what’s going on at their loved ones’ place of residence, Widman said Good Shepherd has been making a point to post more on its own Facebook page. Families are encouraged to check in often.

Heather Greeno is divisional sales specialist at Findlay’s Taylor Place retirement and assisted living community. She said residents there are also utilizing FaceTime and social media to keep in touch with family and friends, and staff have been offering their help when needed.

Greeno said some families are also visiting through the windows, and some residents have made signs and videos to share with their families.

She added a silver lining through this unprecedented time is that some seniors are trying — and embracing — new forms of technology. And some families, conversely, are returning to mailed cards and letters, which the seniors like because they can keep and display the messages in their rooms.

Bridgett Mundy, director of residential care at Birchaven Village and Independence House in Fostoria, said the facilities have been encouraging FaceTime use among residents and families, but are also using the technology to provide families with patient updates.

The facilities are allowing one family member to assist with getting new residents settled into their rooms For family members who live out of state, staff may use Skype to provide a virtual tour.

Debra Kriner, director of clinical services at Birchaven and Independence House, said despite their loneliness, residents are handling the lack of visitation well and understand the need for social distancing. Staff met specifically with those in the assisted living facilities before the pandemic arrived in the area to express the gravity of the situation, and the message was well received, she said.

Creative activities such as hallway bingo and coffee chats have been helpful in keeping the residents engaged, but Kriner said cards, letters and hand-drawn pictures go a long way in brightening someone’s day. She said staff are also looking forward to warmer days, when they can take residents out for one-on-one for walks or golf cart rides, or maybe even to plant flowers.

In the meantime, the facilities encourage community members — whether or not they have a loved one in one of their facilities — to drop a card in the mail. Some residents don’t have family members locally, and Mundy said volunteers are also welcome to hold a virtual visit with these individuals.

To arrange to drop off cards or drawings, call Birchaven at 419-424-3000 and ask for the activities department, or do the same at Independence House at 419-435-8505. Special items, such as snacks, small gifts and pictures of grandchildren, can be brought to the front door and will be distributed to the residents.

Widman said staff at Good Shepherd have embraced their role serving seniors and their families during this pandemic.

“Our staff have been fantastic. They understand the importance of their role,” he said, noting many employees are volunteering to pick up extra shifts, and call-offs are actually down.

So far, Good Shepherd has been “lucky to have no sickness in the building,” Widman said. The facility’s leadership team and key staff have been meeting daily to discuss DeWine’s press conferences and any new developments that may affect the home.

“We respect and are grateful to our governor,” he said, adding he feels DeWine’s orders are in the best interest of both nursing home residents and employees. “Our residents are very vulnerable to this disease. We want to do everything we can to prevent that disease from entering our building.”

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