For 89 years old, Jack Hollands is pretty up to date on the latest tech.
Living at the Westerleigh PARC retirement home in West Vancouver, Hollands is known for being “quite the character” by fellow residents and staff. While keeping busy at the place he’s called home for two years, some of the best moments of his week are the visits he gets from his two sons who live nearby.
But those visits were put on hold in mid-March, after a spike in COVID-19 outbreaks forced mandatory visitation restrictions to be implemented across the province.
Luckily for Holland, he was quick to figure out how to use Zoom and other virtual chatting tools to keep in touch with his sons.
“With Zoom it’s been absolutely fine,” he said. “My sons are rather reluctant to talk on the phones most times.”
His tech-savvy skillset is one Holland knows isn’t possible for all seniors living separate from their loved ones.
While the pandemic has sparked creativity with how families connect with loved ones – homemade signs being posted out front of care homes to impromptu front-yard concerts for residents inside – nothing quite compares to spending time face-to-face.
That’s one of the reasons a retirement living chain in the Lower Mainland has pioneered a new kind of innovation so its residents can safely resume visits with their family.
PARC Retirement Living, which runs five facilities in Greater Vancouver, including where Hollands lives, have constructed free-standing, pod-like “family meet-up centres.”
The large, red structures made out of shipping containers allow for a resident to visit up to two family members at a time, with a barrier of plexiglass in between to ensure physical distancing.
Residents enter through a ramped entrance at the end of the unit, while visitors access the other side through their own walk-up entrance.
In between meetings, a PARC host assigned to each centre fully sanitizes the chairs, the plexiglass and other high touch areas and ensures hand sanitizer is supplied and replenished for residents and guests.
Hollands was one of the first to test the initiative, meeting with his son and granddaughter for a special moment as important to Hollands’ family as it was to him.
“They have to realize how lucky they are to see me,” he said with a laugh.
All jokes aside, Hollands offered a great review of the purpose-built centre.
“I thought it was going to make the perfect jail house but much to my big surprise it’s really good and most of the people I have talked to who have used the unit, they were very surprised. It’s a wonderful addition to the place.”
The meet-up centres come as health officials in B.C. warn that visitations to seniors home will likely be off the table indefinitely. Despite the province working tirelessly to flatten the COVID-19 curve, at least a dozen outbreaks remain ongoing at senior facilities.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that she understands the loneliness seniors must feel not seeing their loved ones, but contact with others must remain as minimal as possible because it is a proven method to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
But PARC’s invention could be just what is needed to bring back family connection – especially for those who aren’t as tech savvy as Hollands.
“We’re pleased to have pioneered this idea and it’s a concept that could well be emulated by other seniors residences,” PARC president Tony Baena said in a statement.
“With no vaccine for COVID-19 on the immediate horizon, and our residents being in the age cohort most at risk, it became clear that normal visits inside our residences couldn’t resume anytime soon.”
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