Care home creates touch barrier

  • St. Vincent de Paul Rehabilitation and Nursing Home Center resident Doris Bugeau gets a hug from her son, Paul Bugeau. The nursing home staff developed this hugging screen to provide a way for residents to hug friends and family members during this COVID-19 pandemic. Courtesy

  • St. Vincent de Paul Rehabilitation and Nursing Center Administrator Jeff Lacroix demonstrates how the hugging wall at the home allows residents to hug relatives. Paul Robitaille / Berlin Daily Sun

For the Berlin Sun
Published: 8/27/2020 3:17:15 PM

One of the things that people have missed during this pandemic is the ability to touch other people. This has been especially hard on those in nursing homes who are already socially isolated and lonely. The COVID-19 pandemic has closed nursing homes to visitors and those restrictions are only gradually easing with limited visits requiring social distancing.

The staff at St. Vincent de Paul Rehabilitation and Nursing Center has found a way around that. They have put together a screen where a resident and a designated family member, both wearing gloves, can reach through a plastic screen and touch and hug each other.

Administrator Jeff Lacroix said on March 13, “which was a Friday the 13,” the nursing home closed because of the COVID-19 virus. As a result, he said their residents have gone five months without any outside human contact.

“By using this screen, we can bring some of that back,” he said.

Lacroix noted that American psychologist Abraham Maslow in his hierarchy of human needs theory states the sense of belonging and love is one of the five basic human needs. His list also includes self-fulfillment, esteem, safety and physiological needs such as warmth, shelter, and food. Lacroix said his residents have been “hungry for human touch.”

“Because of the lack of touch our residents have become sadder and lonelier. We hope this can help alleviate that,” he said.

“During Phase I, we could not allow anyone into the building that was not essential personnel. During Phase II, we were able to bring back our contracted employees such as the podiatrist and the beautician and we were able to allow outdoor activities with social distancing.

“Surprising to me was the contract employee the residents missed most was the beautician. For the residents to be able to have their hair done and to talk with the beautician gave them a sense of normalcy they all craved,” he observed.

“We are slowly opening back up. We are now allowing community dining and activities as long as social distancing is met.” Lacroix.

He noted that many residents’ families are so large it is hard to have the family designate just one member who can visit their loved one.

“We are hoping that the next phase will allow us to allow more family members to visit,” he said.

Lacroix said it was difficult in the beginning of the pandemic to have enough personal protective equipment for the staff and residents.

“We even had PPE equipment our organization had purchased confiscated on the tarmac by the Fed’s,” he said. “We have a good supply now so that is no longer a concern. We have had no outbreak. We did have four staff test positive but there was no transmission to the residents,” he said.

Lacroix said all staff and residents wear masks in the building and everyone is currently tested every 10 days.

“Our staff is mindful of safe practices when they are away from the building and on their own. Visits are scheduled by the half-hour right now. We are looking forward to the next phase and hope to open even more,” he said.

LaCroix said the most difficult thing for him right now is not being able to give residents and staff a target date of when this will end.

“I keep getting asked when this will end,” he said. “Unfortunately, no one knows.”

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