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Salvation Army aged care maintains connections for residents

3 June 2020

Salvation Army aged care maintains connections for residents

While the measures taken to restrict the spread of COVID-19 have been imposed to protect vulnerable older members of the community, it has also led to greater isolation, a disconnect from families and, for some, increased anxiety.

Working to minimise the stress brought on by strict isolation rules, The Salvation Army Aged Care team reacted quickly to the needs of its 1700 residents across the country by introducing technology solutions to keep elderly residents connected with their families.

Richard de Haast, Salvation Army National Director for Aged Care, said it was important to provide a platform for residents to have some face-to-face interaction with their loved ones in the interests of their overall mental and emotional health.

After consulting with residents in Salvation Army aged care facilities, Richard engaged the help of the Salvos IT department to facilitate the introduction of scheduled, one-on-one video sessions for residents to connect with their loved ones.

VSee software – a less data-hungry application – was loaded onto several dedicated android tablets and sent to the 20 centres across the country for staff, residents and their families.

With a scheduling component that lets staff know when a call is planned, the software has allowed the centre to ensure a staff member is on hand to help with any technical issues should they arise.

Some centres have set up the tablets in a dedicated lounge space for residents to go when their call is scheduled, while the tablet is taken to residents if they are confined to their rooms or want more privacy.

Video link

Robin Tittel (80) has lived at Bethany Aged Care Centre in Port Macquarie on the NSW Central Coast for around four years. Her son Raoul, who had recently been unwell and unable to visit his mum, said he was truly grateful that the technology was introduced to the facility.

Raoul, who lives within one kilometre of Bethany, said Robin was not “tech shy” but initially had trouble getting used to any new technology. When Raoul made his first video call to his mother, the Bethany staff took the tablet to her room and sat the device on a table in front of her.  Robin described it as “amazing” to be able to speak with her son and see him at the same time. “I felt very lucky,” she said.

“When she initially saw me, it took a little bit of getting used to but, the more we spoke, the better it got,” Raoul said. “I can see why the restrictions are so tight on seeing them socially. This technology is better than the phone. It’s just really nice that we had this opportunity.”

Window of opportunity

Another initiative The Salvation Army has introduced at its aged care facilities is WindowConnect.

Sophia Yang, manager at the heritage-listed Maybanke Aged Care Centre at Dulwich Hill in Sydney, said WindowConnect has enabled residents to continue to receive visitors – albeit with a window dividing them.

Set up in an area protected outside the facility, visitors have been connected by telephone to the relative they can see through the window. But instead of a cold pane of glass dividing residents from loved ones, the windows have been decorated to lift spirits and create a friendlier atmosphere while families are separated.

With restrictions on visitors being eased in NSW, families can now visit. But residents still considered at a high-risk of contracting the virus and family members who have not had the flu vaccine are still required to use the WindowConnect system.

Lifting spirits through music

When COVID-19 restrictions came into force, Aaron Stobie from Campbelltown Salvation Army, South Australia, said his heart went out to the residents of the neighbouring Bellara Retirement Village.

Believing they would be feeling “feeling pretty down and out” with visitors no longer permitted, he decided to bring some live music to the grounds of the village. Contacting the village management, Aaron – a talented vocalist ­– floated the idea of a concert in the courtyard.

“I said: ‘Maybe I could come and do a bit of a concert where people could watch from their rooms, open the windows, or come and sit outside',” Aaron said.

Village director Marisa Flower jumped at the opportunity.

“There was actually quite a good crowd, which was lovely for them and lovely for me – so I sang a couple of tunes and they joined in,” Aaron said.

“It was quite amazing because there were people sitting in their rooms, standing by the window in their rooms participating, some came outside and were sitting on chairs in the courtyard. One couple brought out their afternoon tea, another couple were dancing.

“One of the couples who came out were celebrating their 70th wedding anniversary, which was remarkable. They couldn’t see their family, so it was quite a lovely experience really.”

Concluding the concert with David Foster’s ‘The Prayer’, Aaron said Campbelltown Corps had enjoyed a good relationship with the village over many years with residents taking part in various corps activities – both at the corps and inside the village. In such unprecedented times, a live concert during isolation provided yet another moment to connect and care.

Stories first published on The Salvation Army’s online national magazine

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