Contact with the outside world is something many take for granted, but in current atmosphere of the COVID-19 pandemic, any contact with the outside world can be a lifeline, bring hope, and brighten a day.
For the 70 residents at Desert Springs Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Hobbs, contact with the outside world can do all of those things, and Desert Springs Administrator Gary Harris hopes to help residents experience the community by bringing cards and letters to read and share with residents at the facility.
Harris hopes the cards, letters, and drawings from family and community members can have a positive impact on residents at the center by bringing the outside world to them, while still maintaining their safety-imposed segregation from the outside world. In particular, Harris hopes children, who are currently out of school, will take a little time and draw a picture or write a letter for residents.
“Drawings from kids would be great. And (so would) personalized letters from the community wishing our residents well,” Harris said about what he’s hoping to receive for the residents.
And, Harris has also taken to social media, posting his request in hopes those posts will be shared so residents can receive correspondence from around the U.S.
“I am asking the public if you can mail cards and letters to my residents,” Harris posted online earlier this week. “Cards will be quarantined for a short time, and then given or read to our residents. Kids out of school, this would be a great project. Please share. We will put a map up and track where letters come from.”
For the drawings, cards and letters that have come in, Harris and the staff at Desert Springs are taking the precaution of quarantining the items for five days prior to allowing them in with residents. Then staff will share those items with residents.
“We take them around and read them to the residents in small isolated groups, and some of our residents, we actually will hand them cards to let them open them,” Harris said. “You can kind of tell if it’s going to be a kid’s letter inside of it, and we’re going to direct those to the residents who we think would best benefit from those.”
Harris said residents have been appreciative of efforts to keep them engaged, Harris said.
“They know that we’re trying everything we can,” Harris said. “Every morning we literally have to think, ‘what can we do today to make it different?’ ‘what can we do today to make the experience inside the facility, and for the families, different?’ Families have been wonderful so far.”
In addition to cards and letters, Harris said he also encourages families, or anyone interested, to create Easter baskets for residents as well. Those can be dropped off at the center, but because of the length of quarantine needed for anything coming in, baskets must be brought in by Monday, Apr. 6.
And, because the center will still, most likely, be on lock-down at Easter, Harris said he is hoping families will make use of virtual visiting of residents during that time as well as the personalized baskets. Desert Springs currently has four iPads that staff use for family visits with residents. Two were purchased by the facility, one was donated by Walmart, and one was given by the New Mexico Health Care Association. Staff, cleans and sanitizes the iPads, and speakers or headphones connected to them after each use, Harris said.
“We’re reaching out to families to bring in personalized Easter baskets,” Harris said. “Then, when we do as much of an Easter celebration as we can, we’ll be able to give these personalized items to as many residents as we can. If it’s the families, if they can put pictures in there or anything, I think it would help the morale and raise spirits inside the facility.”
And, if there aren’t enough personalized baskets that come in from the community for residents, Harris said the staff have said they are ready and willing to make the needed baskets themselves for the residents.
“Our staff is as much their family as their family is, that just happens after time,” Harris said. “Of course, (the residents) miss (their families). Our iPads have helped with some familiarization, and seeing the faces. We’re dealing with a lot of residents with dementia, and seeing those faces helps. We have families who call in here every day through the video chats. Those help calm the families in the community and helps our residents. A familiar face helps it go easier.”
Most senior centers around the country have been closed to visitors, except for virtual visiting, because residents in those facilities are most at risk for contracting the virus, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Not only are they most at risk, but the mortality rate for older residents, and those with underlying health conditions who contract COVID-19 is nearly 10 times that of other groups. Worldwide, the mortality of those over 80 who contract the disease varies, but is generally around 18-20 percent, and for those over 70, the mortality rate hovers around eight percent. For those under 60, the average mortality rate generally ranges two to three percent.
Desert Springs was one of the first centers to go into a “no visitors” lock down, and Harris said this, so far, has been beneficial to the residents by being more isolated from possible contamination from the COVID-19 virus.
“We were kind of the first ones in the state to go into lock down,” Harris said. “At first there was some grumbling, but I think, at this point, (families) are like, ‘thank you’ because they can see 100 miles away (in Lubbock), they’re having major issues.”
Anyone interested in participating can create personalized Easter baskets, or send cards, letters, or drawings to: Residents, 1701 N. Turner St., Hobbs, NM 88240. For more information, please call Desert Springs at 575-397-0870.