What with the H1N1 pandemic raging and with no relief in sight, Massachusetts' Beaumont Rehabilitation and Skilled Nursing Center decided it could no longer risk having its elderly residents visit with children enrolled in its day care center. When the decision was handed down in September of 2009, both the seniors and the babies were disappointed. For a decade and a half, the residents in the nursing home had enjoyed visiting with the day care center's toddlers and babies. But the center decided to close down the program for the duration of the pandemic. They didn't want to risk the spread of the H1N1 flu among the residents.
Beaumont, in keeping with current recommendations, has also urged elders not to allow visits from children under the age of 13, whether healthy or showing signs of illness. That means no visits from grandchildren or relatives in this age group, too. Most of the hospitals in this area have followed a similar policy of barring children from visits with patients because of the fear that they will cause swine flu (H1N1) to spread unchecked.
Other measures have also been taken and one can see hand sanitizers everywhere, and some school districts have decided to cover their water fountains, rendering them off-limits for the duration of the pandemic. Wherever and whenever possible, schools have avoided holding any large functions.
But prior to September, the Beaumont seniors would visit the day care center on a daily basis. The elders would read to the kids, hold sing-a-longs, feed the smaller babies and engage in game-playing with the toddlers. In most cases, seniors knew the children in the day care center so well they could call some 40 of them by their first names. One Beaumont senior, Patricia Petrilla commented, "We used to hug them and hold them and feed them every day." Patricia looked forward to these visits.
A recreational assistant at the center, Lindsey M. Benedetto explained, “We knew they just couldn’t live without seeing them. We knew we had to do something to maintain the relationships.”
That's why the nursing center decided to use technology to put the two groups back in touch.
It wasn't really all that complicated. A laptop computer in the nursing center was hooked up to a second laptop computer in the day care center. Using the popular program Skype and with the help of a small camera located at the top of each laptop, the two groups were able to reconnect. Seven seniors can gather around the laptop at one time and the seniors can also see the faces of the kiddies on a large, flat-screened television that is in the elders' meeting area.
While there are occasional technical glitches, the idea has been a big hit. The seniors still can't wait to see and cuddle those babies face-to-face, but they're managing to make do with what they have—and loving it!