Families in South Texas and across the country are dealing with similar issues as nursing homes and other long-term care facilities as they restrict visitors to help protect vulnerable residents and staff from the coronavirus pandemic.
While times have certainly changed for how people interact during this COVID-19 pandemic, the Solstice Senior Living Center hosted a “Hugs for Hope” event to help bridge the gap between family and friends in a creative way - with a “hugging booth.”
“Hope for a better time, hope for a better place, for our residence, and for their families," Solstice Senior Living executive director Michelle Kelm said. "Hugs to make them feel like there is hope for our future, that this is not going to be our future forever.
"We will have contact with our families, and we will find ways to overcome anything that comes our way.”
Families said the human touch with their relatives was especially comforting.
“We have been up to visit him a couple of times where we could pass things to him," said Barbra Culp, who was visiting her 96-year-old father. "This is the first time we can actually touch him. I think it is great. I hope all the places do it."
A sheet of plastic with holes and specialty sleeves may seem simple, but for the folks here at the Center, this divider is special.
“It felt great; it would have felt better if we wouldn't have the gloves, and the thing in between us," said Carol Solovey, who visited her 89-year-old mother. "But it felt great."
Others said they have been waiting months to reconnect with their loved ones.
"Oh, it felt amazing," said Kim Buchanan, who was visiting her mother. "It was something you didn't want to let go; you just want to keep holding her."
"I have not been able to physically touch her since February. Solstice has done a great job of keeping our families protected. It has been a long time coming."
The event was especially meaningful for Solstice Senior Living resident Judi Barraba.
“I can't describe it...it has been so long," Barraba said. "Usually we are a huggy, huggy family. So not being able to do it for five or six months, it has been hard."
Saturday's event could not have happened without the help of C-101 radio host Rex Gabriel, who helped families connect with their loved ones while following all CDC guidelines with his “Hugging Booth."
“Everything is CDC-friendly. As you have seen, we are wiping down in between usage with two different kinds of cleaners in between each use," Kelm said. "Everybody is wearing masks, gloves, and we are asking that they all social distance. We have had all families wait in their cars till it is time to actually come up to receive their hug,” said Kelm.
“It is actually like my heart is touching her heart. It is the closest we have been in months, and it is the closest you get to touch your loved ones. I also know that they are doing a great job of protecting them as well so we can see them after all this is done,” said Buchanan.
While COVID-19 keeps people apart, the love of family and friends is still essential.