Senior Care Center Visitor Cottages Keep Families Connected

August 31, 2020 – In difficult times, necessity becomes the mother of invention. Southeast Georgia Health System’s Senior Care Centers in Brunswick and St. Marys have taken that to heart. Outside of each facility stands a collection of diminutive white cottages, each featuring a covered porch.

“Because of the pandemic, it was necessary to restrict visitors at the Senior Care Centers for the safety of our residents,” said Gary Trullinger, administrator of the Senior Care Center-Brunswick. Trullinger worked with the Health System’s leadership to launch the concept. “Up till now, family and loved ones have connected with residents through window visits and with the use of a tablet for Skype calls. The Visitor Cottages can restore some normalcy by providing a private, safe and climate controlled space to reunite and spend quality time together.”

Each cottage allows two visitors to spend time with their elderly relative in a safe, private atmosphere. Residents enter through a back entrance, which has a wheelchair-accessible ramp and door. Visitors enter in the front door under a covered porch.

“Isolation was already one of the biggest challenges for long term care and elder care facilities prior to COVID-19,” said Rhondia Grant, LNHA, administrator, Senior Care Center-St. Marys. “COVID-19 made an already challenging situation worse with mandated shelter in place orders eliminating regular family visits for the past six months. While the Brunswick and St. Marys Senior Care Centers connect families through FaceTime and Skype, some families find the technology challenging. So the Visitor Cottages are a very exciting approach to helping our residents and their loved ones adapt to our ‘new normal.’”

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, a protective plexiglass shield divides the climate controlled sitting area but stops short of the ceiling. “It’s easier for residents to hear their visitors through a thin plexiglass shield than through a window,” said Chasitee Chambers, activities specialist, referring to the window-to-window visits Senior Care Center residents have participated in since March.

Window visits have several drawbacks, weather being one. Visitors must stand outside in the hot sun and rainstorms can cancel a much-anticipated visit.

“Some residents have difficulty hearing visitors through the window. Others with cognitive decline get confused and tell their family to come inside,” Chambers said.

Cozy, Comfortable and Safe

Extra safety precautions aside, a cottage visit is like chatting in a living room. “The cottages are a lot more comfortable and personal than a window-to-window visit,” Trullinger said.

Family and friends can call the Center to schedule a visit with their loved one. For now, visits are scheduled in 15-minute increments to give all residents an opportunity to use the cottages and to allow time for cleaning between visits. The Senior Care Center-Brunswick has four cottages; St. Marys has two.

A Sense of Well-Being

“Making residents feel loved and cared for has always been our goal; that’s especially important now, because their mental state affects their physical state. We want to make their experience here the best it can be. The cottages are one more way to keep residents connected with families,” Chambers said. The cottages are small, but Chambers hopes they will have a big impact on the residents’ well-being. Many residents are already excited, which makes Chambers feel supported by the Health System’s efforts. “It’s a great place to work,” she said.

Her gratitude extends to the community, as well. “We have had an outpouring of gifts, mail and support from the community. Our residents are always so excited when they receive the gifts and cards.”

If you would like to brighten a resident’s day, contact the Senior Care Centers at 912-265-8528 in Brunswick or 912-882-4281 in St. Marys to ask how you can help.

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