Sue Kotok routinely navigates the side streets of Somerset in her motorized wheelchair, stopping at stores for shampoo and body wash, greeting cards and Diet Mountain Dew. For more than two months now, since COVID-19 visitation restrictions were mandated at nursing homes across the country, Kotok has been relegated to the personal care floor at Schoolhouse Suites at The Patriot. “It’s been hard, but I’m thankful I’m in a place where there are people who care about me,” Kotok said, wiping away tears.
Since early March when federal and state guidelines indefinitely prohibited outside visitation to nursing homes, Patriot staff and the Somerset community have creatively filled the void for Schoolhouse Suites and the interconnected Patriot, a skilled nursing facility. “There’s no substitute for family,” said Lori Fisher-Gaskin, administrator at Schoolhouse Suites. “But I feel like we’ve stepped into that role.” Laptops have been donated for residents to Skype or Zoom with families. Hallway activities –bowling, karaoke, exercise classes –keep residents active. Closed-circuit television channels are used to stream entertainment and sing-alongs. Fisher-Gaskin and LPN Missy Beal have cooked homemade waffles.
Sue Kotok feels a heartfelt love from staff at The Patriot during the COVID-19 situation. On right, messages of support are chalked on the sidewalk outside the Somerset nursing home.
Outside, a med aide from Schoolhouse Suites and her two children chalked colorful messages on the sidewalk. The Somerset Garden Club planted flowers. Families gather in the parking lot, waving “Happy Birthday” posters to a loved one sitting in an upstairs atrium. Kotok said she has received an abundance of greeting cards from the community and surprise knick-knacks. “I’ve been getting care packages and I have no idea who they’re from,” she said. “But I know there’s someone who’s thinking about me and cares about me.”
The Patriot’s Activities Department has spent more one-on-one time visiting with residents, rather than conducting group activities. They’ve been coordinating video chats with families and games such as “Remember When ...” and “Finish the Song.” They’re playing balloon tennis and putt-putt golf. During National Nursing Home Week, The Patriot staff dressed in theme attire: weird hats, hippies, ‘50s greasers and Pink Ladies, and nerds. All to bring smiles. Activities Director Tiffany Uphold says the extra time spent with residents has forged a lasting impression.“You go home at night like you made a difference when, unfortunately, their families can’t be here to do that,” she said.