Essential Services: Activities and Recreational Therapy Professionals Making A Difference! Part 2

Compiled by Jeff Witman, CTRS, FDRT, Professor Emeritus, Applied Behavioral Sciences, York College of PA

With this blog we follow the progression of specific impacts at a facility and look to the future. There has never been a time with a greater need for communities to collaborate in their support of long term care and other healthcare organizations.
Emily Connors, CTRS, CDP, Therapeutic Recreation Supervisor, Masonic Village at Elizabethtown

March 2020 This month started off like usual, with much excitement for St. Patrick’s Day, trips and outings, programs, entertainment and laughter! No one expected, or could have been prepared for, the impact of COVID-19. Here at the Masonic Village at Elizabethtown, things came to a grinding halt instantly. Families were not allowed to visit. Vendors were not permitted on campus. All campus entrances were closed, except for one, and only staff members were permitted. Residents in the health care and personal care areas were told they needed to remain in their rooms at all times. There was a lot of anxiety, fear and questions. Things we had never considered as regular practices, were now in discussion. Decisions were made and changes occurred daily – sometimes several times a day – based on the situation. For our therapeutic recreation department, our concerns instantly focused on our residents now being in their rooms. Thoughts regarding their emotional, social, cognitive and physical health were swirling at our meetings. What we had always done (encouraging residents to socialize and be engaged in leisure) was now not safe for them to do. This idea went against all of our training, education and experience. Not only was our staff concerned for our residents, but the fear within the communities and our homes was unable to be ignored. Shortly after the decision for residents to remain in their rooms was made and implemented, our team quickly realized the connection to families was so important to figure out. Within one week, we had an iPad for each neighborhood. Our staff received training on Zoom and FaceTime and quickly found themselves training families on this technology. These video chats became a lifeline for many. In addition to the challenge of connecting families, our team realized the need for residents to continue to be engaged. We were able to utilize our technology and capability for livestreaming on our campus television channel. By April 1, we were able to distribute therapeutic recreation calendars to all of our residents that included physical programs selected by our wellness department, music by our music therapy department, spiritual programs by our spiritual care department and a variety of cognitive, educational and special event programs provided by our department. Our entire team across campus pulled together to provide livestream programming that would meet the needs of our residents and continue to keep them engaged, despite having to remain in their rooms. Bingo was a challenge for us to figure out because it was so important to all of our residents on campus. We were able to livestream our bingo software onto the resident televisions and call the numbers, as well. We now have residents in our retirement living, personal care and health care areas playing along with our virtual bingo each Friday.

August 2020 Things look much different this month! In addition to our active livestream program schedule, we are looking forward to beginning small group implementation. With the COVID-19 situation so fluid, we need to prepare while being flexible, as things can change quickly yet again. We have learned so much through this. Our need to adapt and push ourselves to grow in ways we couldn’t imagine has helped us in the long run. We now know how to utilize technology to connect families who live in other states and previously would not have had the opportunity to visit. We now know how to utilize our livestreaming capabilities to bring engaging programs to residents, even during times such as flu outbreaks or further COVID outbreaks. We now know how strong our teams are and how much we can depend on each other.

Kim Sullivan, CTRS, Resident Experience Director, The Haven at Springwood

COVID-19 has brought much chaos to my work environment, but I remind myself daily that the chaos I experience cannot compete with what my residents have been dealing with for almost six months. When news began to break about the seriousness of COVID-19 and residents found themselves isolated to their rooms, there was a lot of fear and anxiousness surrounding the virus and wanting to know just how long all of this was going to last. My department turned on its heels to move in a completely different direction in regards to programming–at first, my residents found novelty and delight in seeing what we would come up with next. How we would make life feel as “normal” as it could under these circumstances. How we would keep them connected to their loved ones. Six months later, the novelty has worn off in many ways. But with all that has changed in the last six months, my department and my team have remained constant–we have and always will be committed to supporting our residents’ well-being. We will stretch our creativity and flexibility to the ends of the earth to provide for them. I have learned many things traversing this pandemic while working in long term care, but two of the most important are, 1) I am stronger emotionally than I ever thought possible, and have found strength in others as well as been the strength for my residents. And, 2) I have built stronger bonds with my residents and their families more in these last six months than I have in my entire career in this field. I have known the importance of recreation therapy and seen its impact, and I feel now more than ever that all others can see it, too. We are truly ESSENTIAL! We are a lifeline for our residents right now. We have stepped into roles that we never thought we’d have to–but we stepped forward into them without a second thought. For now we must continue to step forward, together, through this and to the other side, to our “new normal.”

I hope, as you reflect on what contributors have shared, you consider how you might make a difference in this challenging situation. Residents and staff can benefit from your engagement. Let’s be a mutual aid group of recreation and human service professionals dedicated to finding out how best to give and get support in coping with Covid 19. The virus may keep us apart but we can communicate and work together to keep any of us from being alone.

Teresa Rash, CTRS and her creative staff at the Margaret E. Moul Home shared this wonderful example of adapting to the Covid challenge:
Our Residents loved attending the York Fair every year. Since that was not possible this year we decided to bring some of the fair to our residents with a food truck event. We also had an afternoon of carnival games. The event was enjoyed by residents and staff.
Photo credit: Donna Keller

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