A local Rotary Club is using the philosophy of “alone together” to implement the latest technology in a place where things move a bit slower.
The El Campo Rotary Club has approved a measure to provide local nursing homes with laptops in order for families to safely communicate, while respecting current COVID-19 visitation policies.
For club member Glenn Frels, the El Campo Rotary Club’s effort provides relief to personal visitation strife and calms fears of other family not being able to see his mother and she, them.
She was sitting there and I could see her, but she was just kind of looking out passed me through the window.
“This whole thing came about because my mother, who is 103 years old is at S.P.J.S.T. Senior Living in Hillje. Richard (Young) and I were talking and I told him how frustrating it was that we haven’t been able to visit her,” Frels told The County Gin. “My sister says she prays every night that my mom does not die before we get to see her again.”
With the aid of S.P.J.S.T. staff, Frels attempted alternative visitation methods; however, the son said he couldn’t find an effective way to communicate with her.
“I have tried through the window, but they have really dark screens,” Frels said. “Her nurse, Michael, has really been fantastic. He was in there with her and I even had a whiteboard to write messages on, but he said he couldn’t see it. We started talking through his cellphone and he would relay the messages to her. She was sitting there and I could see her, but she was just kind of looking out passed me through the window.”
My mother-in-law did not understand why all of a sudden we couldn’t come see her.
Rotary Club President Cheryl Roitsch faced similar visitation struggles within her family during the global pandemic.
“My mother-in-law was in a nursing home, too,” Roitsch said. “She recently passed away, but it was the same way with us. We could only go to the window and talk through the window. There was a nurse at Garden Villa Nursing and Rehabilitation, Joni, that would take her phone in there for my mother-in-law to use FaceTime. It was on a little screen and hard for her to see.”
For both Frels and Roitsch, concerns of residents not fully understanding why visitation has been limited or stopped altogether loom overhead.
“I think a lot of it is the not understanding,” Roitsch told The Gin. “My mother-in-law did not understand why all of a sudden we couldn’t come see her.”
Frels agreed, explaining, “I don’t think residents and family members in these nursing homes really understand why no one all of a sudden hasn’t been to see them and why they aren’t coming.
“I sent a message to Michael (her nurse), asking how she was doing and asked him if he thinks she understands why we can’t go see her right now. Michael said he didn’t think she totally understood. I sent him a text to let her know that we will be there to see her as soon as we can and that we love her. He sent back that she said she loves you, too, and when are going to get over here to see her.”
It was fellow club member and friend Richard Young who introduced Frels to the Zoom application that would later evolve into the Rotary Club’s Zoom Together project.
“I have been using Zoom for bible study, church service and a number of business meetings and organizational meetings,” Young said. “I mean, it’s real handy. Once you get a little bit familiar with it, it works well. It’s a great tool. Zoom is free as long as you stay under 40 minutes per session. So, there’s no charge at all.”
For Frels, the project is simple.
There was no hesitation once the idea and plan were lined out. This is probably the best way we can serve families right now that have a member in a nursing home and aren’t able to visit.
“We are using today’s technology to keep in touch with our loved ones that we can’t just go up and see,” he said.
After receiving the club’s approval of $2,000, Young and Frels sought the guidance of a local computer store owner to determine which device(s) would be ideal for the project.
“We use Clay Wilkins at The Computer Center in El Campo and used his recommendations,” said Young. “We asked him to help with what we were doing and we felt like the residents needed a machine that they could hear and could see clearly. A phone or a tablet just wouldn’t do the trick for everyone. He also cut the Rotary Club a very favorable deal on the price.”
Frels said, “Clay is very generous. He has been a great supporter.”
Once the device was determined, the Rotarians reached out to local nursing homes to see if they could utilize the laptops.
According to the Rotary Club president, the $2,000 approved for this project is worth every penny and a model is in place to coordinate with other nursing homes in the future to help loved ones see each other through a difficult time.
“If we were to add other locations, we will be able to do that with the support of the board,” Roitsch told The Gin. “There was no hesitation once the idea and plan were lined out. This is probably the best way we can serve families right now that have a member in a nursing home and aren’t able to visit.”
After all this time, I can’t wait to tell her, ‘I missed so much you, mom. It’s so good to see your face.’
Young said the idea was well-received and projects that the implementation of the servile will be a smooth transition.
“I’ll tell you; I spoke with Garden Villa and Glenn spoke with Hillje and Garden Villa was just ecstatic. They have been trying to figure out a way to do this since this all began. Joni has tried with designating phones for video calls and such, so they were very receptive to this idea,” Young said. “The way we think we are going to do this is: the home keeps a calendar for scheduling communication times. The family would need to call the nursing home to get on the schedule for zoom meetings.
“That way, everyone has a time slot and it’s a coordinated effort. Once the family receives the time slots from the nursing home, they can email the home with the meeting invitation information and the administration will help the residents get all setup for the Zoom meeting with their family. I am just excited to hear how this works out for families. I think it’s going to work real well.”
The pair plans to deliver two laptops, with the first headed to Hillje, where Frels’s mother waits to see a friendly face again.
“If it works for my mother, I know it will work for just about anyone. They will have staff there to explain how to speak and where to look,” Frels said. “After all this time, I can’t wait to tell her, ‘I missed so much you, mom. It’s so good to see your face.’
Natalie Frels-Busby also contributed to this article.