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Seniors residences a bastion of connection and care

While COVID-19 causes concern over an outbreak in an especially vulnerable population, care and connection remain in abundant supply.
The recreation team at Kipnes Centre for Veterans help residents navigate face-time, cellphones and email to connect with family and the community. PHOTO contributed by CapitalCare.

If there's an overarching concern amidst long-term care homes around COVID-19, there's often an equally strong sense of happiness and good news in these very same places.

At CapitalCare homes in Edmonton and area (some 10 sites), staff are creating ways for residents and famiies to stay connected. From technology-focused tablets, cellphones, face-time and Zoom sessions, to old-school postcards and letters, the goal is to keep life as normal as possible while maintaining the health and safety of residents.

CapitalCare recreation therapist Heather Rozak said while physical distancing is difficult for everyone, staying socially connected remains key. CapitalCare's Connecting Loved Ones program embraces all the ways families and residents can connect, and allows volunteers and community members like students and religious officials --even senior's homes entertainers who are creating videos to share--to continue to connect to residents too.

"We jumped on this idea as soon as visitation was restricted, and it has been our focus over these several weeks. People call a central line to create a virtual post card, or arrange a face-time or even a through-the-window visit with family. Family and residents aren't all tech savvy--but we're finding ways to get as close as we can," said Rozak.

"The post cards are a real hit with residents. People create a virtual message, (at and it's printed out as an actual postcard for residents. Even those without much family supports receive these community messages--it's very special for them."

At the Kipnes Centre for Veterans in NW Edmonton, Brenda Vanden Biggelaar has been able to talk to her 94 year-old mother Phyllis via face-time, through email and with postcards, even though her mom lacks computer skills and doesn't have a cell phone.

"My brother, sister and I can send mom 'thinking of you' postcards this way, and see her and talk on face-time," said Vanden Biggelaar. "We haven't been able to physically be with her since March 15, and we used to visit every day, so this is hard. But we can see she's smiling and doing well--she's even cracking jokes."

"The staff at Kipness take care of mom's physical and spiritual needs, and we communicate with other residents and their families that do have a cell phone, and who check on each other, and tell us mom is doing ok," she added. "Everyone is doing the best in a difficult situation. We know there's a network of people who care."

Indeed, Vanden Biggelaar reports that some activities continue in limited fashion at Kipnes, while still following social distancing guidelines. While small-group gatherings have now been restricted to one-on-one time between staff and residents, a modified birthday celebration offers positivity and a sense of normalcy. All birthday celebrants get a piece of cake delivered to their suites at the end of their birthday month, a nod to the big group birthday gatherings of the past, said Vanden Biggelaar, and a bright spot in a day. 

Rozak said staff across CapitalCare are helping residents combat loneliness and boredom--even depression--during times when they can't connect with family. The one-on-one moments of happiness are many, she said, whether over an individual game or puzzle play, reading a letter or navigating email.

"For some, it's been a time to find new interests. Most things we used to do as a group can be done individually. We're discovering these moments of happiness and connection every day," she said.