Sunroom brightens day  for residents, families

Pollie Fryfogle is all smiles as she gets to visit family using social distancing with the help of a newly built sunroom at George Regional Hospital.

   This Mother’s Day was difficult for many people due to the COVID-19 epidemic and the need for quarantines, social distancing and protecting the most vulnerable. For residents of one George County nursing home and their families it became a lot easier.

   The most vulnerable are the elderly. Studies and experience indicate COVID-19 is most prevalent among the elderly, especially those with other health problems. Those people living in long term care facilities are especially high risk, and to protect its residents the George Regional Health and Rehab Center has had its residents under a strict quarantine for the past two months. No one but staff and health care workers have been allowed in the facility.

   The only contact residents have had with family and friends since March has been by telephone or mail.    “FaceTime is a poor substitute for in-person contact,” explained Angie Mason, the facility administrator. Especially on Mother’s Day. “Our residents were becoming very depressed.”

   Jennifer Havard saw a post on social media made by Madeline Easterman, who works at the facility. Easterman’s post was about a nursing home that had installed a glass enclosure so family and friends could visit at-risk nursing home patients in person, even if separated by a pane of glass. Jennifer went to her husband Shane with the idea.

   The Havards own and operate Havard Mfg, Inc., a firm that specializes in conveyers and equipment primarily for paper mills. Over the years they have also designed and constructed specialized equipment donated to schools and other organizations as community service projects.

   “My grandmother Lugene Eubanks was the second or third resident when they opened that nursing home up,” Havard said. “She passed away in 2015, and they were just real nice to her so I wanted to do whatever I could to help.”

   Havard said he had eaten breakfast with his grandmother two or three times a week while she was in the nursing home. “I couldn’t imagine having a family member in there and not being able to visit with them,” he explained.

   With the idea in mind, he went to his employees and told them what he wanted to do. “We have a great group of employees,” he said. They designed and constructed the glass enclosure that fits on the front porch of the building in about three days. It was installed on Thursday, April 30, just in time for the week leading up to Mother’s Day. Residents and nursing home staff have access to the Sunroom from inside the building while visitors have access only to the porch area.

   “It just came at the perfect time,” said Mason. “The response was overwhelming. For this whole week there has been steady flow of visitors. It wasn’t just Mother’s Day, it was the whole week.”

   Visitation is by appointment only, Mason said. Visitations are limited to 15 minutes. A facility cell phone is loaned to the visitors, and residents communicate with their loved ones with an IPad. The Sunroom, the communications equipment and the porch area are all sterilized between each visit as a special precaution.

   Visitation hours are from 9:30 a.m. until 3:30 p.m. on Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday.

   “Our residents were becoming depressed by being detached from their families. This has lifted their spirits so much. Seeing their spirits lift so much has also lifted the spirits of the staff. It is just wonderful.”

   Becky Byrd was able to visit with her mother Donnis last week. “It meant everything to get to see my Mom in person and not FaceTime. I love that they are doing the FaceTime, but it is nothing like seeing her in person.”

   Although built because of COVID-19, Mason plans to keep the Sunroom as a permanent part of the facility. Once the COVID-19 threat passes, it can be used for at-risk patients during flu season, or to enable highest risk residents a chance to get out during special events.

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