‘Chat room’ safely welcomes visitors

Windsor Place finds creative way to allow residents to meet with friends, family during coronavirus.

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July 7, 2020 - 9:56 AM

Windsor Place resident Barbara Perry chats with Sharon Boan in a new “visit box” constructed to allow the assisted living residents to see and talk with loved ones during visiting restrictions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo by Vickie Moss

Sharon Boan is a fan of the new “chat room” at Windsor Place. 

Finally, after four months, the gregarious Iolan can visit her friends there. 

Boan is but one of many who have been kept away from friends and family at assisted living and nursing home facilities because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The virus put a sudden halt on visits to assisted living and nursing home facilities across the country starting in March, for fear of spreading the deadly infection to those who are most vulnerable. Facilities scrambled to find ways to help loved ones keep in touch, even if they couldn’t touch or even share the same physical space.

On Monday morning, Boan visited her friend, Barbara Perry, at Windsor Place’s newest alternative for keeping each other company during COVID-19.

A visitor box is easily accessed without visitors having to enter the facility at Windsor Place.Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Some call it “the visit box.” Others call it a “chat room.”

It’s a plexiglass window and intercom system, similar to what you’ll find at a bank. Windsor Place residents can stay safely inside, seated not far from the recreation area but far enough away for privacy. Visitors stay outside, seated on lawn chairs with a canopy to shield them from the elements.

Visitors make appointments for their visits, and staff bring the residents to the makeshift room. They can sit and chat almost like normal.

“We understand being away from loved ones is hard, and being able to see them is important,” Tera Pate, director of nursing, said. “Family is important.”

INITIALLY, Windsor Place allowed families to visit via technology like phone calls, video chatting and Zoom meetings. Sometimes, loved ones could come to a window.

When the weather was nice, residents would sit in an outdoor patio. Visitors could stand on the other side of a fence, keeping a healthy distance.

Pate wasn’t sure where the idea for the visit box came from. Perhaps someone saw something similar at another facility. Wherever the idea started, the maintenance crew at Windsor Place jumped into the project with gusto. They made it functional, but also kept comfort in mind. Visitors still have to stay outside, but the area is pleasant and private. 

“We just devised our own system,” Pate said. “Our maintenance department built it from the ground up.”

Visits are limited to 20 minutes when others are waiting, but can be extended otherwise.

The box is disinfected between visits.

There have been some kinks, such as figuring out how to make the intercom system work. And those who are hard of hearing may not find it as useful.

Since the rooom became available, visits have increased. The “regulars,” family and friends who would come every day, have started to return more frequently.

It took Perry a few visits to get comfortable, Boan said. 

“The box has been wonderful. At least we can see and talk to each other,” Boan said. “I was visiting just about every day until this happened. The staff has been working real hard to get some way we could see each other. They’ve done everything they can to make it work for us, and I know they must be worn to a frazzle.”

BOAN and Perry have been friends for about 20 years. They were next-door neighbors for about 10 years.

Boan recalled going to Valentine’s Day dinners and New Year’s Eve together. She used to help Perry and her late husband with chores around the house. 

Perry’s husband died around Thanksgiving, and she moved into Windsor Place around the first of the new year. Only a couple of months later, the virus put an end to the frequent visits with Boan. 

Boan also visits another longtime friend, Betty Wells. She isn’t able to see her as often as she sees Perry.

At the end of a visit, a time when Boan would normally give her friends a hug, instead they blow kisses through the plexiglass.

“There’s nothing on earth as important as really good friends,” Boan said. 

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