Visiting goes virtual, and it's been fun

Julia Marburger was always the woman whose home was open to everyone.

“She raised five boys on her own, which is amazing,” says her daughter-in-law, Sharon Marburger. “Her home became the little hub of the neighborhood. Everybody was always at her house.”

In a virtual sense, Julia is still welcoming guests to her Homeland Center home, even with Covid-19 restrictions in place. Through meticulous planning and clever use of technology, Homeland Center is offering virtual visits, free of charge, that keep residents connected to family and provide peace of mind to loved ones.

“Our stress levels go down because we can see her, and we know how well everyone is caring for her,” says Sharon.

The virtual visits emerged from Homeland’s commitment to maintaining a sense of normalcy while strict COVID-19 containment procedures are in place. They started when Administrative Assistant for Strategic Projects/IT Alice Kirchner realized that Homeland Center had virtual-visit capabilities. She gathered and adapted 10 iPads and iPhones.

Working with Activities and Social work to understand the preferences of residents and families, Alice examined available applications and in consultation with IT settled on FaceTime, Skype, and Zoom (following proper safeguards and used only for family visits). Alice established accounts for each unit at Homeland Center and acquired cleaning materials, stands, chargers and adapters for the equipment.

Residents weren’t entirely familiar with the technology, but they caught on quickly.

“We have seen so much progress,” says Alice. “The first time one resident visited with her daughter, it was pretty stiff. Now, it’s a relaxed and enjoyable visit with no time spent on trying to figure out how it works!”

The Homeland Center Activities and Social Work offices coordinate with families to schedule the visits. Staff are trained to facilitate and log in to the different applications. Through June, at least 260 Zoom calls had been conducted, including multiple 90+ year birthday celebrations.  

Residents are excited to see their family members in one place, says Activities Director Aleisha Connors.

“It’s nice seeing the reaction on their faces – seeing them smile when they see their loved ones, knowing they’re still there and thinking about them,” she says.

Invitations go out to one or two family members, and they can invite others. Some visits have involved eight or 10 people, and pets.

“They’re raucous. They are loud. They are lovely,” says Alice. “They are multi-generational. I know of at least two groups that are four generations. It is wonderful.”

Homeland is “all about trying to balance protecting our residents with an equal commitment to caring for and about our residents” during the Covid-19 crisis, says Alice. “If we get a request for a virtual family visit, we do everything possible to honor that.”

In fact, the virtual visits have been so successful that “it’s hard to imagine that we will ever stop doing this to some degree,” says Alice.

Aleisha agrees. She envisions benefits for family members who live out of state or who go on vacation. The virtual visits offer an excellent method to stay in touch, she says.

Sharon Marburger loves the opportunity to connect with her mother-in-law and even bring virtual visits from Cocoa, her rescue dog. Cocoa’s visits to Homeland were a regular highlight for many residents before in-person visits were halted.

“These visits have allowed us to feel like we’re still part of the Homeland family,” she says. “It’s one thing for people to tell you that somebody’s OK. It’s completely different when you see that they’re OK.”

Sharon says she can see the effort Homeland’s staff puts into making sure that Julia “stays healthy and looks healthy.”

“Her hair looks pretty,’’ Sharon says. “She’s dressed nicely.”

The virtual visits with family at least twice weekly are less confusing for Julia than weekly visits with family standing outside her window, Sharon says.

“I think the visits make her feel like all is normal,” says Sharon. And for families FaceTiming or Zooming in, they are visual proof that all is well.

“It has helped us immeasurably to be able to see her,’’ she says. “It makes us feel connected.”

 
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