Ashely Ellis. Program Assistant of E-Notes

When the CDC released its COVID-19 guidelines in mid-March, senior care residents were no longer able to have in-person visitors. The Maine Health Care Association (MHCA) took steps to help residents connect with the community, and the result is an innovative Creating Connections: E-Notes for Long Term Care program.

Inspiration for Creating Connections

Program Assistant Ashely Ellis explains that the inspiration for the program came after seeing another initiative established in another state. “As concerns about the spread of COVID-19 began to surface, visitation for nursing home residents was put on pause. At the same time, schools were closing and many children were now home, with parents looking for things for them to do,” she notes.

“We saw an opportunity to connect children at home with seniors unable to visit their loved ones. Over time it became apparent that community members of all ages were interested in sharing notes of encouragement with residents and we broadened our scope beyond just out-of-school children.”

Developing the Initiative

Ellis partnered with Nadine Grosso, Vice President and Director of Communications, to develop the initiative. “When considering how best to coordinate the effort, we wanted to be sure that the process was simple for all users,” she says. “We also wanted to be sure that we didn’t add any burden to nursing home staff during such a challenging time.”

Ellis and Grosso determined that the Activity Director would serve as the best point of contact for the program. That position had shifted dramatically with the reduction in communal activities, and instead, started to provide staff with positive messages they could share in smaller groups or with residents, individually.

“We created a short online submission form where children and families could submit a brief note or message, or attach a photo or artwork. From there we compiled all notes received and created a newsletter format document with the list of notes, which we distribute to the nursing homes directly on a weekly basis,” explains Ellis.

MHCA created a contact list of activity director emails. That list includes nearly 200 MHCA nursing home and assisted living providers, allowing the e-notes to reach residents all over the state.

Gaining Momentum

Word about the initiative spread quickly. MHCA first shared the initiative through its membership contacts and through social media. It was shared with PTO groups and scouting groups, and a feature by WABI TV-5 also significantly helped to spread the word.

“The community response was strong over the months of March, April, and into early May,” says Ellis. “We received notes from all over the country, messages from therapy pets and their owners, children, farmers sharing photos of the signs of spring around them, as well as some funny (albeit charmingly corny) jokes.”

The program has been well-received by both residents and staff. “The feedback we received from the staff was very positive,” explains Ellis.

Activity directors have reported that the residents have enjoyed hearing that people were thinking about them and that people recognized the challenges they were facing while they couldn’t visit their loved ones in person.

You can learn more about Creating Connections: E-Notes for Long Term Care on the MHCA website.