While the coronavirus pandemic will be remembered as a time of great suffering, it will also leave a more positive legacy – that of the pulling together of communities and the compassion and empathy that was shown to others.
At Rand Aid Association’s Ron Smith Care Centre and Thembalami Care Centre, the national lockdown created a heightened awareness amongst staff of how technology can bring comfort and joy to the elders in their care.
Seeing the impact on residents of their isolation from loved ones, and the sadness that came with the realisation that family members would not be able to be present on birthdays, staff members began using their personal cellphones to bridge the physical divide.
Eventually, WhatsApp groups were started in the care centres to keep families updated on the well-being of their loved ones and to facilitate the sharing of photos and information, while platforms like Zoom were used to enable friends and family to take part in birthday celebrations.
The initiative has been so well received that Rand Aid decided to acquire tablets, linked to the association’s data network, to enable both care centres to continue connecting families without staff members having to rely on their own devices.
“This wonderful project must be continued throughout the pandemic and beyond. It has meant the world to our residents and their family members,” says CEO Peter Quinn.
“Many of our residents’ loved ones live far away or are unable to visit as often as they would like to because of the pressures of work. Now that we have realised what a positive impact social networking apps have on everyone involved, we are determined to carry on using technology to negate any loneliness or isolation our residents may feel,” he says.
“The staff have to be commended because they started the initiative using their own phones. They were, however, concerned about the size of the phone screens and felt a bigger screen would serve the residents better,” says Ayanda Matthews, Rand Aid’s GM: Compliance and Social React Division.
Sr Leanie Bessinger from Ron Smith Care Centre explains that she was heartbroken by the prospect of people already separated from their loved ones, being denied person-to-person visits.
“Whenever I feel the need to reach out to someone, I simply grab my phone and within seconds, we are connected. When the lockdown was implemented, I noticed our residents largely do not have access to the technology most of us take for granted and are thus denied this privilege. I started using my phone to connect them with the people they were missing. The results were amazing – emotional but happy,” she says.
“Physical separation can have a huge emotional impact on older persons. It has been heart-warming to see how technology can provide connectedness and enrich the lives of our residents. I am pleased that this will become a permanent feature in our care homes, even after the lockdown has ended,” says Ayanda.