Menno Home resident Antonio Casas connects with his daughter Nuria Rivera during a recent Zoom video-conference call. Submitted photo

Menno Home resident Antonio Casas connects with his daughter Nuria Rivera during a recent Zoom video-conference call. Submitted photo

Menno Home in Abbotsford keeps families connected

Zoom video-conference calls used when in-person visits aren’t possible

“My eyes are wet.”

Bewildered, Georgina Onstine looked up at her care aide at Menno Home in Abbotsford and wiped away the tears as they rolled down her cheeks. After several weeks of lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Onstine had just seen her son, Allen, on TV.

“She was thrilled to talk to her son,” said Menno Place recreation staff member Vera Beerling. “He was so big on the screen and she commented on his wrinkles and grey hair. ‘You’re old!’ she exclaimed!”

Beerling connected Onstine and her son via Zoom through Menno Place’s new video conferencing program launched in April.

Since the lockdown began in long-term care homes across B.C. in late March, no visitors have been allowed in Menno Home and Hospital, leaving the 350 residents and their family members longing for conversation and a glimpse of one another. (Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced on June 30 that in-person visits will soon resume with strict protocols, including one designated visitor per resident.)

RELATED: B.C. to start allowing visits to senior care homes

In the first three days of the program, 87 calls were facilitated. Since then, over 700 video connections have been made between residents and loved ones.

“It’s what we hoped for and more,” Beerling said. “It’s been wonderful to see our seniors engage with their families.”

Families have expressed their gratitude for this connection amidst a difficult and uncertain time.

“I felt such joy to see and hear my dad,” said Nuria Rivera after her Zoom call with her father, Antonio Casas. “Thank you for working on new ways to help us keep in touch with our loved ones. You all are my heroes!”

Menno Place’s Zoom program allows for one 15-minute Zoom call per resident per week. There is capacity for 10 calls per day in each of the seven units at Menno Home and Hospital.

RELATED: Five Menno Place teams recognized for work during pandemic

Family members are able to book their calls through a simple online process at the Menno Place Family and Friends Website.

The Zoom program has also allowed friends and family members who live at a distance to connect with their loved ones. Many out-of-province and international calls have been facilitated.

“Dad’s spirits were lifted as he was able to see all of our faces from Saskatchewan to Texas to Squamish to Kamloops and the Lower Mainland. It was awesome!” a family member commented online.

“I live in the UK so visits are not possible,” said another. “Therefore, Zoom calls are a godsend. I want to thank the Menno staff for their care of my sister and for setting up the Zoom call system, which is working, overall, very well.”

Of course, as many in this season of virtual connection have experienced, technical glitches happen, including bad wifi connections, and audio and video issues. But on the whole, families and residents have shown patience and gratitude for this opportunity to connect, Beerling said.

Menno Place’s manager of recreation and volunteers, Joanne Sweeney, said she is grateful for the opportunity to connect residents and their loved ones at this challenging time.

“When Menno Place made the difficult, but necessary, decision to lock down the Home and Hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic, we were aware how hard it would be on both residents and their loved ones,” she said.

“We needed to be innovative in how we provided programs and connections, but still keep the residents safe. I have a strong and compassionate team that worked alongside Menno Place communications and tech staff to make this Zoom program happen. We are thrilled to be able to serve our seniors and their loved ones in this way.”

The Menno Place Zoom program will continue throughout the lockdown, with hopes to extend it into the future.

RELATED: Federal aid for care home systems needed ahead of second wave, advocates say