When you ask most people in the community about where the heart of the nursing home is, they will quickly answer the recreation department. Unlike any other department, recreation takes on a unique role in the day-to-day life of a resident, not only providing activities but also providing daily emotional and spiritual support. 

During peak COVID, the role of the recreation department changed forever. Gathering to eat a meal, playing bingo, attending religious services, watching a movie while sharing popcorn, a gentle hug, all became impermissible. Teams had to come up with new and creative ways to engage residents. 

In a nursing home setting, residents are provided with a fun-filled schedule of activities that vary from brain games and trivia, reading and art, exercise and dance, to parties, seasonal BBQs, and more. The day of a resident is carefully constructed around the end goal of keeping their spirit and engagement at a high level. While the pandemic wreaked havoc at healthcare facilities across the country, whereby all disciplines became affected, recreation, in particular, had to stop engaging residents in the ways they have always known. 

How do you facilitate social interaction with many imposed limitations and restrictions? As we watched the situation that our residents encountered lead to isolation and depression, we knew we had to find a different solution. The old way was no longer going to work, and we all needed to adjust to the new reality. 

What did many recreation teams across the country turn to with the dilemma on hand? Technology. When faced with the need to engage residents in the toughest of conditions, recreation had to take creativity to a new level, think carefully outside the box in hopes of minimizing that isolation and depression. Recreation once again set out on their mission of bringing comfort and joy, so to be a beacon of light in this new darkness, staying true to their role as the heart of the nursing home. 

Along our journey, we have continued to take a technology-first approach. If we couldn’t bring the same large groups together, we were going to lean on technology to bring our entertainment and hopeful energy to the residents directly. We taught residents new technology and facilitated ways to stay connected to their loved ones through the world of FaceTimeWhatsApp and Skype

We explored the world of virtual reality, once not at all on their radar given many in their advanced ages, but now an integral role in the engagement of a resident’s new life. Now, our residents can virtually attend religious services, have fun by exploring the south of France, and even attend their grandchildren’s weddings all through the use of technology. They no longer have to rely on the walls of the facility for entertainment.

Fast forward to the present, where the use of technology has become so embedded in our day-to-day.  Our residents have learned to embrace it as a means to stay connected to their families and friends and live safely in this post-pandemic world.  In-person activities have resumed, and our newfound use of technology has enhanced the way we keep our residents engaged. 

If there is one thing that this pandemic has taught us, it’s that we have the resiliency and ability to creatively adapt to finding ways to produce and keep meaningful connections. If we want to bring a large entertainment group on-site, we now first consider bringing the event virtually to our residents via smart TVs, in addition to gathering everyone in a large auditorium-style room.  All in all, the post-pandemic world has given recreation the choice of doing virtual events as well as bringing people back together again.

Recreation has been forever transformed and reinvented through the use of technology. From a global pandemic where the most vulnerable were targeted by this virus, these residents and the usages of modern technology have become married for life.  

This marriage will continue to play an integral role in our residents’ pursuit of leisure and wellness and an integral role in supporting our role as the heart of the nursing home. Our technology-first approach continues to yield better outcomes for those we are so proud to have in our care. 

Samantha Greene, LMSW, is Centers Health Care’s Corporate Director of Social Work and Recreation.

Rose Ferreira, CTRS, is Centers Health Care’s Senior Director of Recreation.

The opinions expressed in McKnight’s Long-Term Care News guest submissions are the author’s and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News or its editors.