Technology Beats COVID-19 Isolation for Nursing Home Residents

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Experts agree that suspending social visits to nursing homes represents an important way to reduce breakouts of COVID-19. While this can help slow the spread of COVID-19 within this vulnerable population, it severely limits the scope of social interactions available to nursing home residents. Family members are prohibited from stopping in but that doesn’t mean that residents cannot connect with loved ones.

At Park Creek Senior Living Community in Buffalo, Facetime and Skype have helped residents to stay in touch with their family members.

Geri Robinson, administrator at Park Creek, said that since some of the community members have macular degeneration or hearing impairment, using technology that includes both visual and audio components helps.

“I’m glad to use the technology, but my staff wasn’t as up on technology before,” Robinson said. “We’re learning to use it.”

Another example is lchurch services for residents of faith.

“Residents have been very happy with that,” Robinson added.

She said that Park Creek sends weekly updates to family members to keep them in the know. Some family members have “visited” by stopping by to see their relatives through their window.

“It’s frustrating for families because it’s been a long time and it appears we have another month,” Robinson said in mid-April. “But the families are happy because we haven’t had any cases. Technology may be a new trick for us old dogs.”

To help residents feel closer to their families, care facilities are using technology. For example, St. Ann’s, Rochester’s largest nursing home, encourages family members to call residents anytime they wish.

“We understand this is a difficult time for families, loved ones and guardians who are unable to visit our residents during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Triciajean Jones, director of life enrichment at St. Ann’s Community.

Participation in the buddy program can help residents feel more connected. The program links residents with employees who volunteer to visit with them multiple times weekly as an informal, non-clinical check-in. It’s just a time for casual conversation.

“These volunteers also help the seniors contact their families via video chat, phone, or other means,” Jones said. “It’s a friendly visit for both residents and staff.”

The facility also purchased more tablets so residents can video chat with their buddies to reduce feelings of isolation. The tablets are disinfected after use for safety.