Wilmington VA works to keep residents connected

Susana Cebula, CLC recreation therapist. helps a resident at the Wilmington VA. (Submitted photo)

WILMINGTON — Because of visitation limitations due to COVID-19, Wilmington VA Medical Center’s Community Living Center staff had to adjust to overcome these challenges to keep the 40 veterans who live there entertained.

“We acted quickly and fiercely to make the tough choice to limit in-person visitations to minimize the chance of exposure to our residents, staff and visitors,” said Tracy Dickerson, nurse manager of the Wilmington VA Medical Center CLC. “The team also made the veterans aware during every change that was made. It was because of our quick action and screening processes that the veterans residing in the CLC have not displayed any signs of COVID-19.”

Wilmington VA Medical Center’s CLC is one of more than 100 VA nursing homes across the country where veterans can receive nursing home level of care, which includes help with activities of daily living such as bathing and getting dressed and skilled nursing and medical care.

“Due to social distancing measures, we have had to rethink some of our traditional activities to ensure our veterans’ safety,” said Susana Cebula, CLC recreation therapist. “We have had to think outside of the box to provide meaningful, engaging and active therapeutic programs for our Veterans to have a sense of normalcy.”

The hospital embraced virtual communications to connect its residents with their loved ones.

Once in-person limitations were enforced, CLC staff said they knew the residents would have a difficult time as some veterans were visited daily. In order to continue to provide a safe environment, CLC staff began implementing video visits using a variety of platforms. Most of the residents and families who have video conferencing sessions, meet weekly to keep in touch.

“I enjoy the video chats,” said Robert Hatfield, U.S. Army veteran and CLC resident. “It’s easier for both sides of the family to stay in contact with each other. It gives us an opportunity to see everyone face to face as we are all in different areas, with relatives joining from Pennsylvania, Boston and Delaware. We don’t always get together, but we enjoy catching up with our weekly video sessions.”

“The CLC team strives to provide a homelike and compassionate environment for the CLC residents, and recognizes the stressors brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Susan Pulaski, associate chief nurse – Ambulatory and Extended Care. “With the collaboration between the CLC nurse manager, social work and recreation therapy, the CLC residents are able to both virtually visit with their loved ones through live stream video.”

As time progressed, hospital leadership made the decision to allow veteran residents speak with visitors over a phone through the patio door or window.

“Nothing can replace in-person, face-to-face encounters when visiting a loved one,” said Althea Hall, CLC social worker, who coordinates the visits with veterans and their families. “That is why we started our in-person visitations again. The glass provides a barrier and keeps everybody safe, but still connected. Our CLC leadership team did a fantastic job decorating the patio so the families have a welcoming atmosphere when visiting with their loved ones. The ambiance that was created is inviting and sets a great tone for visits. The residents really appreciate seeing their family again.”

“Having the ability to physically see their loved ones, provides assurances on both sides – the resident and the family – that they are well cared for, and nurtured and hopefully reduces stress for the resident and their family member,” Ms. Pulaski added.

In addition to visits, residents have access to recreation therapy groups, such as outdoor gardening, painting, basketball, virtual Tai Chi sessions and musical performances – with a physical distancing twist.

For instance, the 78th Army Band performed a virtual concert.

“Our CLC veterans are some of the most resilient people I ever have met,” said Ms. Cebula. “They continue to stay positive and look forward to remaining active. We are already planning additional activities while maintain physical distancing guidelines and working with other groups to offer virtual performances in the future.”