This horrible, no good, very bad pandemic that’s keeping family members and long-term care residents apart is also strengthening their connection with staff in new and gratifying ways. That’s my observation, at least, gained through a video conferencing window into daily nursing home life. 

Via an iPhone held by a helper on the inside, I was able to watch certified nurse aides, activity staff and even a bookkeeper bustle around creating all kinds of touching, essential moments. Some notable examples: they set up Zoom video calls, positioned residents for window visits and delivered special care packagesthat were  dropped off by family and friends.

Coordinating some exchanges with families are more work than it might seem. One daughter brought a Starbucks drink for her mother to sip as they talked through the glass, and it took a staff member to facilitate that experience.

It’s increasingly clear that in so many similar ways, frontline employees are now an indispensable lifeline to families seeking every possible means to interact with their isolated loved ones. 

CNAs especially play a critical role in preventing feelings of loneliness, and are often first to identify those who need some extra TLC. Activity staff have pivoted beautifully from group activities to a one-on-one obsession with creatively keeping residents active and engaged. 

I particularly enjoyed watching an activity director arrange a complicated Zoom call with family members around the country. Once everyone appeared on-screen, she headed off for the resident’s room, narrating every step, pointing the iPad this way and that to help them feel part of the environment. 

Outside the door, she paused to focus on the nameplate, then walked in and attached the device to the bedside table. The last image I saw was the resident grinning and leaning toward the screen in excited conversation. Though technologically impersonal, the experience seemed deeply connecting, and that staff member not only made it happen, but special. 

“I’m taking the place of a family member who can’t be here,” this staff member told me. “Those are huge shoes to fill, and it’s an honor.”