Due to pandemic restrictions, some local nursing homes have had to postpone holiday events, but administrators and staff have been working to make the holidays less lonely by hosting on-site celebrations for Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season.

Lori Rankin, administrator of Assisted Living at Evergreen, said that the holidays, especially Halloween, used to be a big event for residents at the facility. Those staying there for the last few years would hand out candy to the children from the nearby primary school.

Over the winter holidays, the same children would visit and sing carols to the residents. 

This year, the children were not able to trick or treat, but the 36 residents were still treated with cupcakes and cookies themed for the holiday. The students will not be able to visit to sing carols for Christmas either. 

Despite the visitation restrictions and the inability for residents to go home during the winter holidays, many traditions will remain the same at the home. Each year, staff set up an angel tree in the lobby, play holiday music and movies and still encourage family members to visit. 

“We have told them, please schedule appointments to come in and see your family members during the holidays, that way they’re not so upset and set back because of this,” Rankin said.

And as for Thanksgiving, the residents have a big holiday meal to look forward to, as well as the possibility of a bingo store, Rankin said. Residents who play bingo will earn fake money, which can later be exchanged for prizes at the bingo store.

Similarly, Sundale Nursing Home has many things planned for the holiday season. The nursing home has plans to set up a tree to be decorated by the residents in each wing, presents for patients, which encourages community members to shop for holiday gifts for residents, and encouraging residents to keep in touch with family and friends through use of tablets and laptops, which were recently purchased and donated to the home. 

“We’re not taking the place of their family because nobody can take the place of their family, but we’re filling in right now so that we can try to provide as much normalcy to life here right now,” said Donna Tennant, admissions director of Sundale Nursing Home.

Since July, Sundale has extended its activities staff for residents to 24 hours a day, seven days a week to meet the needs of its residents, Tennant said. In addition to adding activities for the residents, such as ice cream carts and temporary tattoo parties, the staff has also provided exercise programs that can be done in the residents' rooms to keep fit. 

Visitation at Sundale is by appointment only, limited to one visit per resident each day, and masks, gloves, gowns and temperature checks are mandatory for all visitors. The staff is tested weekly and also required to wear masks at all times.

Any residents who leave their rooms are to wear masks as well. At a capacity of 100 residents, Sundale currently has 85 residents. Five residents of Sundale Nursing Home have passed away due to COVID-19. 

Currently in Assisted Living at Evergreen, no more than four visitors are allowed in the building at any given time. Visitors must call ahead for appointments to visit, and they do not do same-day appointments. 

Additionally, only two people may visit the same resident per day. Visitors also face a questionnaire and a temperature check before they are allowed to enter the visiting areas of the home. 

“We were closed there for a while,” Rankin said. “COVID has affected a lot of the residents, and I feel the elderly in the area, just because they’re not able to actually go out of the building, go for car rides, go home, it’s a big change for these residents.”

COVID-19 cleaning is still being conducted dutifully at the center, which includes sanitation of every visiting and communal area after it’s been used. In addition, staff are required to wear masks and are subject to a temperature check before work each day. 

Guests, vendors and staff are all required to wear masks while in the building, while residents are not required to.

“Our biggest thing here is laughter. My staff members here [have] seen what COVID is doing to our residents, and we try to keep them happy and laughing and smiling as much as we can throughout the day,” Rankin said.

Staff Writer

Crystal is a Junior Journalism student at WVU. She enjoys watching thunderstorms and walking her Jack Russell, Kitty. She has worked with the WVU Equine Studies Program as a communications intern, and plans to write for a major media outlet.