By Joyce Koyama, OTR/L, The Orchard Post Acute Care, Whittier, CA

On March 13, 2020, President Trump declared a national emergency, citing an outbreak of COVID-19. On that same day, CMS strictly restricted in-person visitation to only compassionate care situations in skilled nursing homes in order to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 to our most vulnerable population: the elderly with pre-existing medical conditions.

Like many seniors, our residents at The Orchard thrive on the opportunity to spend time with their loved ones. They look forward to having lunch with their spouse, to catching up with friends, to seeing their grandchildren grow. For many months, they were deprived of these meaningful visitations, or at least reduced to visits virtually or done outside their window. While many families tried to make the most of the situation by attempting to talk through glass, decorating their windows with signs and balloons, or even bringing singers to sing for their loved ones to bring cheer, it just was not the same.

As we gained a better understanding of COVID-19 and infection numbers locally were declining, our facility came up with a plan to build a visitation area as a way to help reunite our residents with their families and friends. Plexiglass was added to three sides of our existing gazebo against a side entrance. Just weeks later, the Activities Department was able to bring residents out into the sanitized area at a designated time where family and friends would await them on the other side of the glass.

At last, a clear view of each other from head to toe. Sounds of cheer, laughter and tears of joy can be heard and seen from the visitor area. Hands held up to glass, face-to-face conversations, and a heart-warming feeling with a hello and good-bye. Our resident Sandie described seeing her family for her birthday as “uplifting,” as she has felt lonely after not being able to see them for months. Resident Rosita said she felt happy seeing how tall her granddaughter had grown. It was unanimous that our residents felt overwhelmingly happy and loved after seeing their family and friends again.

While there is nothing that can really replace the warmth and value of a real hug or a held hand, for now, this is a wonderful and sweet way to reunite our residents with their loved ones. For families on the other side of the visitation area, they feel relief to see their loved ones doing well. And for our residents, they are given hope and joy — a goal we have accomplished here at The Orchard Post-Acute Care.