Guest Columns

Connecting through recreation therapy

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Keri Cuyler
Keri Cuyler

The Episcopal Church Home in Rochester, NY, is continually trying to provide individualized recreational opportunities to the residents that live in our community. Recreation therapy is a core component of the day.

Recreation staff provide residents with structured and individual activities that combat boredom, encourage socialization, give purpose to the day and showcase strengths. I lead our staff by encouraging them to know residents on a personal level. Input from the residents is invaluable when planning our programs because we strive to provide activities that are familiar to them. Our goal is to create moments of joy, especially with a population that is increasingly struggling with memory loss. Knowing what residents enjoyed in their past is one way we can make this happen.

Nancy Hossenlopp is a recreation specialist at The Episcopal Church Home, who came to work with us through a friend's recommendation. Her background is in education, specifically special education with a focus on administration. One of Nancy's best gifts is her ability to bring people together. She has been able to create a home-like environment on her unit by integrating plants, encouraging pet visits, planning intergenerational programs and creating home-style meals. The atmosphere on her unit is “come on in and join us – everyone is welcome.” Nancy makes it her mission to really know the people she cares for: their families, their histories and their preferences so she can integrate that knowledge into meaningful activities.

Nancy learned that John Gillis, a resident of ECH, was a former employee of Rochester Gas and Electric Company (RG&E). Nancy herself has a special connection to RG&E - her husband Larry has been employed there for 24 years. Nancy was able to converse with John about the company and his work. John was a “company man” who worked and lived for the business. He was a part of the Pioneer Group at RG&E, and kept up with a regular newsletter describing RG&E news.

Nancy introduced John and Larry. They were able to reminisce about the first major power outage in Rochester, the history of the company, as well as some of the former employees. Larry mentioned at dinner one night there was going to be a first-ever new employee and manager meeting. This event would include a meet and greet, lunch and a slideshow about the history of RG&E. Through Nancy's coordination, John was able to attend this event. He spent the afternoon reminiscing with other employees and sharing stories of changes throughout the years. This memorable afternoon had an impact not only on John but the new employees he met.

Residents living in long-term care settings often identify themselves in terms of their past work, roles and leisure pursuits. Their sense of purpose changes when they retire and their families grow up. Finding meaningful activities to fill their days can be a challenge. John's leisure time typically involved individual pursuits such as reading, watching TV and visiting with family and friends. He was not connecting with other ECH residents.

Nancy was able to build a relationship with John by learning what was important to him. Their outing to the RG&E New Employee Orientation allowed him to interact with employees at his former business, impart his wisdom and to reminisce.

John passed away in April 2015. Our team knows that his trip to RG&E brought him a positive experience based on a company he was so much a part of for so many years. This is a wonderful example of what person-centered care is all about.

Keri Cuyler, CTRS, is the director of therapeutic recreation at the The Episcopal Church Home in Rochester, NY.

Guest Columns

Guest columns are written by long-term care industry experts, ranging from academics and thought leaders to administrators and CEOs.