Jim Nesbitt connects with daughter Janice Benoit through glass at Extendicare in Haliburton. /Photo by Brittney Graham

Families stay close through window visits

By Sue Tiffin

A photo shared online by Extendicare last week freezes a moment in time for Janice Benoit and her dad Jim Nesbitt and captures love in the time of COVID-19 when families are separated from each other to prevent the spread of the contagious virus.

Nesbitt is in his room at Extendicare in Haliburton extending his arm out so that his hand touches the same place on the window that Benoit’s does though she is on the outside of his room – outside the building on the other side of the glass – with one gloved hand holding a phone to speak with him.

“Didn’t they do a beautiful job they captured a moment and an emotion” said Benoit of the photo taken by Brittney Graham who works as an activity aide at the long-term care centre.

Nesbitt has lived at Extendicare since June just a short walk away from Benoit who was able to have one last physical visit with him prior to the closure of long-term care homes to visitors.

“I felt very very glad and very very safe for him” she said. “I was very very glad that that’s what they were going to do because then I knew he had the best chance he was going to have.”

Benoit said her dad is 93. “It’s hard on Dad though because he doesn’t have that connection to me” said Benoit. “So I can go every day if I want. I did see him a lot and then when the lockdown happened I wasn’t sure how we were going to handle that.”

Benoit said the home’s activity director offered video chats through Facebook Messenger making it easy for families to connect even if afar. Benoit found though that the technology was proving to be frustrating for her dad and wondered if a visit through his window might help both communicate in person though apart.

“When I called the staff they were just so welcoming” said Benoit and so she walked to her dad’s window and calling him on the phone was able to have a face-to-face chat.

“I asked him ‘do you want to come closer and put your hand up on the window Dad?’ And so he did. I told him that I loved him and he told me that he loved me so it was like that’s what we do. I wanted to cry. It was joy and gratitude that someone was able to let me connect once more with my dad.”

Those with family and friends at long-term care facilities are used to possible respiratory infection outbreaks which happen about once a year when volunteers do not come in and it is recommended that families don’t. The COVID-19 outbreak means that only staff can enter and they first have their temperature taken as well as answer screening questions related to symptoms of infection.

Despite family not being able to come in though activity aide Kayla Bird said staff is doing what they can to accommodate valued communication.

“We have had the odd Facetime conversation before with residents and their families but never to this extent sometimes we have six calls in one day” said Bird. “The residents absolutely love it. It’s hard on them not seeing their family so they enjoy the technology allowing them to do that.”

At Hyland Crest in Minden and Highland Wood in Haliburton Stephanie MacLaren VP community programs – communication lead for Haliburton Highlands Health Services said steps are being taken to “ensure families of residents can better connect virtually to their loved ones and our staff are increasing social recreation programming for residents.”

New smartphones have been purchased so residents can videoconference with their families a new schedule for residents has been created with more activities and exercises and a single point of contact for families has been designated to answer any questions they may have.

Karen Reid’s dad Herb Debes lives at Highland Wood and his family makes regular visits to him.

“He’s kind he’s funny he doesn’t complain ever the nurses love him he’s a super easy guy to get along with” said Reid who said she’s lucky he’s her dad.

Reid said her dad understands the pandemic is occurring and the implications of the virus but still wants to be close with his family.

Karen Reid visits dad Herb Debes at Highland Wood through his bedroom window to connect while keeping physically apart. /Submitted by Karen Reid

“When he sees us he wants us to come in” said Reid. “It’s really tragic that they’re the first ones in society that get locked out of their families – locked in actually.”

When long-term care homes were closed to visitors Reid said she and her family didn’t hesitate.

“Right away we went to the window right away” said Reid who said her mom visits her dad every day writing him “little love letters.”

The family has taped up a large bag on his window that acts as a note depository.

“Once a week the nurses go grab it and read all of our notes to him” said Reid. “We just keep him abreast of what’s happening in the family and with pictures and things like that.”

Though the family has connected with Skype Reid said the window meetings remain meaningful.

“It just gives him something else to look at” said Reid. “I know he sits at the window waiting for someone to show up.”