Beth Garrard, digital media manager, IntegraCare Senior Living Communities

With social distancing measures in place, the inability of residents and families to visit in person has been stressful and upsetting. Senior care facilities have quickly identified solutions to help keep residents and families connected, like allowing visits through facility windows.

Technology, including video conferencing, offers one way to maintain a personal connection during these times, but some facilities are getting creative and moving beyond technology, too.

Video Conferencing Technology Facilities Can Use

Video conferencing allows residents and families to not only talk, but to interact with each other visually. Being able to see a resident can provide valuable reassurance to families during this time, and video conferencing is particularly ideal for families who may live long distances from facilities and who are unable to visit.

Luckily, facilities can use many types of free video conferencing technology. Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, Google Duo, and FaceTime are all free to use. These platforms are relatively easy to learn to use, so staff can learn them, help to teach residents, and be available for basic troubleshooting, too.

Ways to Make Technology Accessible to Residents

Beth Garrard, Digital Media Manager at IntegraCare Senior Living Communities, notes that IntegraCare has taken a number of approaches to supply residents with devices and technology. “Some of our newer communities, like Hunters Woods at Trails Edge in Reston, Virginia, were designed to include a Skype station already set up, so we were fairly well-prepared for this sudden need for technology,” Garrard explains. “In other communities, we’ve set up desktop stations with web cams and have taught many residents how to use tablets, too.”

Some residents may be able to use devices that they already own, like laptops and smartphones, with some guidance and training from staff. Other options include setting up technology stations that residents can access with proper disinfecting and PPE procedures in place. A facility may want to invest in iPads and tablets, which are more portable and easier to disinfect between use.

Consider Stepping Beyond Technology, Too

While video conferencing and technology has certainly helped to keep residents connected with families and friends, it can’t entirely replace the benefits of an in-person visit. “Our adoption of technology was quick, and we’re trying to meet our residents’ families with the technology they already use,” explains Garrard. “Platforms like Skype and Google Duo have really helped keep some of our residents connected, but not all take to the technology and, after several weeks, families just want to see their loved ones outside of a screen.”

That need for in-person visits spurred IntegraCare to launch Conversation Stations, a system of booths that allow families and residents to visit with protective barriers between them. Those stations were launched over Mother’s Day and have received a positive response from residents and families.

Jeramy Ragsdale, founder and CEO of Thrive Senior Living

Jeramy Ragsdale, founder and CEO of Thrive Senior Living, noticed the same problem but took a slightly different approach to finding a solution. “Our Social Network Directors are working nonstop to arrange FaceTime and Zoom meetings with our residents and our families,” explains Ragsdale.

“Video calls are great, but there is something very human, very visceral about being close to someone physically. It makes a difference that is hard to put into words. I received a heartfelt email from a resident family praising our safety measures

but pleading with us to find a solution so that she could see her mom in person.”

So, Ragsdale started to brainstorm and came up with the idea for Clear Connection Panels. These custom-made glass panels allow residents to sit on one side and safely talk with family members who sit on the other side.

The 8×10-foot panels are on wheels for easy mobility, and are designed to fit inside the front doors of Thrive Senior Living communities. Thanks to wireless phones sourced from Amazon that connect to each other, residents and families are just inches apart and can enjoy a relaxed conversation.

Ragsdale spent three days building 10 of these panels with his father, then personally delivered them to 10 Thrive Senior Living communities across five different states. “The feedback has been amazing,” he says. “Most communities are struggling to book enough time during the day to keep up with the demand from families. The sweet stories of reconnection and emotional reunions have been so heartwarming to see. It’s amazing how such a simple thing has made such a difference.”

Ragsdale wants other senior care facilities to be able to share in the benefits of these panels, so he’s made the design plans available for free. You can learn more about Clear Connection Panels and download how-to instructions to build panels for your own facility.

Resident engagement with families is more important now than ever, and with a variety of options, facilities can help to keep residents connected in multiple ways.