The residents of Stoney Brook Village Assisted Living Home in West Union had a little extra reason to smile this holiday season.
Despite the ongoing battle with COVID-19, staff found a creative way to allow residents family visitation. Prior to Christmas, Stoney Brook purchased a tiny house, turning it into a safe space for residents to experience a little bit of “normal.”
When COVID-19 shuttered the country this spring, it also affected residents of care facilities.
Stoney Brook Co-Owner Kathryn Moser said that meant visitors stood outside the residents’ windows, with cell phones being used to communicate. However, with an Iowa winter quickly approaching, Moser and fellow staff members knew those outside visits weren’t going to be an option for much longer. When positivity rates in the county were lower, there was a designated spot inside the building for visiting; however, there wasn’t much privacy and due to mask use, hearing conversations was difficult for some residents.
“It has been such a difficult year. To see them sad and missing their families was compounding the difficulty for all the staff. All the staff had to be masked of course, so they weren’t seeing anyone’s faces,” said Moser. “We just knew we had to figure out a way to do better for them.”
That was when the idea of a customized visitation house was discussed. The staff went to a local storage building company and ordered a custom building.
For the residents
The first step was finding the right place for the visitation room. Moser noted it needed to be close to the entrance so it was easy to get residents outside safely.
Next was figuring out the details to make it safe during COVID-19. There are two entrances. Visitors enter first through the side door and are immediately seated. Then, the Stoney Brook residents are brought in through the front door, meaning the two parties never cross paths.
Between them is a floor-to-ceiling air-tight plexiglass wall.
“This, of course, made it so they can see each other but can’t hear each other. Therefore, we had to put in hands free two-way communication,” said Moser.
The staff purchased a blue-light air purifier, developed to kill the COVID-19 virus. As another safety step, all visitors are required to take their own temperature and then show the meeting facilitator.
Once the visit is over, residents and family members leave through separate doors. Staff members then sanitize both spaces before the next visit.
Inside, the building was spray foamed to help with insulation. The walls are covered in shiplap, and it is wired for electricity. To get it ready for Christmas, the staff members decorated the space with Christmas trees, wreaths, gnomes and lots of holiday decor.
During the construction, Moser said the residents didn’t see the overall vision.
“At first they didn’t quite understand what we were up to and how it would actually work,” she said. “The smiles on their faces once they got to finally be inside of it and seeing their families….well that was priceless!”
Once the building was ready to be used, the residents made good use of it.
“We had most all of our residents have family members use it through the holidays and the families were very grateful. It had been so long since they were able to have that kind of a connection,” said Moser, who noted the experience also meant a lot to the staff.
Looking to the future
While the holidays are over, the residents of Stoney Brook will continue to use the space to have a “normal” conversation. The Stoney Brook staff has switched out Christmas decorations for Valentine’s Day.
“We will need to use the building until the state’s guidance allows us to open to visitors. We suspect that will be a while past (completed) vaccinations,” said Moser.
There’s already a plan in place for when residents can meet with their families without masks and plexiglass.
“Our plan from the start was to either use it as a place for a resident’s family to stay when they are visiting from a distance or to use it for a temporary place for someone to stay if we are full while they are waiting for an opening.”
No matter what, Moser said the residents’ reaction has been well worth the work.
“I was so choked up when I saw the first pictures of families visiting and the staff too,” she said. “It just meant so much to be able to provide that for them.”