Since the first COVID-19 lockdown and all the restrictions and guidelines that followed, Knute Nelson staff members in Alexandria have found creative ways to engage with residents.

“It’s definitely an extra challenge this year,” Chaplain Michael Peterson said. “We have a lot of gaps to fill. We have a lot of people missing being able to see their loved ones face to face.”

Because of this lack of connection to those outside the care facility, Life Enhancement Coordinator Laura Kremer said that residents have quickly and willingly embraced new technologies, helping them stay connected to people who aren’t able to visit in person.

“Their eagerness to learn is inspiring,” Kremer said.

In order to keep residents safe while also engaging them with meaningful recreation, activity staff make daily visits to individuals in their rooms.

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These visits focus on a resident’s special interests or reminiscence about certain memories.

In place of large group activities, opportunities for groups of around five residents are offered. These pastimes include sing-a-longs, crafts, bingo and other games. Residents are kept six feet apart and are required to wear masks.

“But that doesn’t stop us from having fun,” Kremer said.

One of the residents’ favorites is called “Booze and Tattoos,” where they pick out a temporary tattoo and drink a glass of wine.

Staff members also assist residents with online and window visits, which have become more popular with friends and family. During the warmer months, the YMCA daycare children would walk past the windows and wave at residents, too.

“Our mission statement is to ‘enrich the lives of those we serve,’” Kremer said. “Although this looks differently due to COVID-19, it will always be our number one priority.”

Finding blessings in virtual mediums

Activity programming has also expanded to incorporate more technology. Residents have had the opportunity to “travel” through YouTube and Google Earth. A Wii gaming system has been used for virtual bowling, and people have attended online concerts.

“Activity professionals are creative and resourceful by nature, but this pandemic had even us, some pretty flexible and adaptable folk, bending and stretching in ways we never could have dreamed of prior to March,” Kremer said.

Although the entertainment options are a hit, one technology that residents have “wholeheartedly fallen in love with,” according to Kremer, is Zoom.

The video call platform allowed one resident to hear the cries of a new great-grandchild on the West Coast. A different resident saw a daughter for the first time in three years because she lives overseas. Another virtually attended her granddaughter’s nursing school pinning ceremony.

“It’s been nothing short of magical to have a tool that connects families from all over the world so conveniently,” Kremer said.

A Knute Nelson resident wears a red, sparkly reindeer antler headband during the care facility’s Zoom Christmas party. (Contributed)
A Knute Nelson resident wears a red, sparkly reindeer antler headband during the care facility’s Zoom Christmas party. (Contributed)

A new way to celebrate

Especially over the holiday season, when residents would prefer to be going places and seeing people like they did prior to the pandemic, Knute Nelson staff members found new ways to create a celebratory atmosphere.

A Zoom Christmas party was held for residents, and family members received a link to attend the party online and share in the festivities.

While residents worked on a craft project and ate holiday-themed treats, Kremer weaved around to each person with a tablet so they could all show off their creations and deliver a Christmas greeting to those who were watching.

In addition to the Zoom party, Life Enhancement Director Judy Thielke wanted to organize another event for residents, something different and special. She came up with the idea of an indoor parade, which allowed for social distancing while encouraging Christmas cheer.

Chaplain Michael Peterson and staff member Sara Severson led the parade, playing their guitars, singing and prompting staff and residents to join in caroling.

Several small floats were decorated, and some Knute Nelson employees dressed up as Christmas characters from the Bible. Others dressed up as Santa’s elves and handed out lap quilts to residents.

“The expressions on the residents’ faces were priceless,” Thielke said. “The residents all had big smiles and twinkling eyes.”

Although large group Sunday worship services haven’t been an option at Knute Nelson, Peterson goes door to door singing hymns, reading devotionals and praying with individuals instead. On the weekdays, Peterson holds Bible studies and shares songs, prayers and conversations.

“It’s definitely been a time that people needed some extra attention,” he said. “I think our whole Knute Nelson team has been stepping in in a lot of ways.”

From areas of spiritual care, life enhancement, nursing and housekeeping, Peterson said he’s been inspired by the unique gifts staff members have brought to the table that aren’t a part of their official job descriptions.

“There are lots and lots of people throughout our Knute Nelson team who are motivated by their faith and by their love for others that really stepped up to fill the gap because it’s too big of a job for just one person,” he said.

Life Enhancement Director Judy Thielke stands behind her buffalo plaid float. Thielke and other staff members decorated carts to push around in a Christmas parade for Knute Nelson residents. (Contributed)
Life Enhancement Director Judy Thielke stands behind her buffalo plaid float. Thielke and other staff members decorated carts to push around in a Christmas parade for Knute Nelson residents. (Contributed)