WHEATLAND – There have been cruise nights and teacher parades and a slight easing of restrictions by the Wyoming Department of Health in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This is all well and good, but the elderly in senior centers and nursing care facilities who are quarantined have not been able to leave their buildings nor have their families been able to come into the facilities to visit.
Platte County Legacy Home’s activity director, Cassie Baez, who has been in Wheatland for 18 months, decided to come up with a plan to reunite families – even if it was at a distance. She organized a family parade that coordinated all families to participate in a drive-thru to wave, make signs and throw kisses to their loved ones.
“The biggest challenge currently is to make sure our residents are happy and not bored,” Baez said. “We want to make sure their psychosocial is on par, keeping them out of their rooms and busy.”
Baez, who has help and support from Wheatland native and facility administrator Josey Lauck, appreciates the support.
Lauck, who has a BA in psychology from the University of Phoenix, has found that her passion has given her insight and her education has given her understanding for being the administrator at Legacy.
“My education helps me understand people a little bit more,” she said. “And of course, psychology has a lot to do with understanding the aging process.”
During the COVID-19 quarantine, it is valuable to have employees who are not only understanding, but passionate about finding ways to provide a quality of life in the midst of adversity. The seniors at Legacy have weathered the storm well with the caretaking crew that surrounds them.
“I think that our residents are handling it better than I anticipated,” Lauck said. “Especially at first. Right now, it’s getting long without seeing their family, but they are really being troopers. We do have some people that it’s affecting more than others, but overall, they really are doing well.”
The staff at Legacy in addition to activities such as the parade, have been able to provide other means of eliminating the wide gap between residents and their families.
“We actually were able to take advantage of the CMP (civil money penalty) grant,” Lauck said. “And Cassie went through and got together a list of accessories and tablets to help the residents. She already had the Skype in play with the family members but we didn’t have a whole lot of tablets on hand, so that grant really helped us."
The facility got five new tablets and new headphones which made it easier to communicate.
As for the parade, Baez witnessed other facilities doing similar things, and developed the idea for Legacy Home.
“I sent out letters to all the families, asking them to consider trying a parade,” she said. “I asked them to decorate their cars, honk, wave, whatever you want to do, and we had a fantastic turnout.” There were probably 30 cars in the parade and they did two laps.”
The parade itself went up and down 19th Street, circled in the Covenant Lutheran Church parking lot and continued for two rounds on a day that was as pleasant as if it were scripted by God Himself.
“It was the first decent day in a while, weather-wise, sunny, no wind, but a little cool,” Juliann Artery, a parade participant said. “People were to arrive at 2 p.m. and the residents were outside on the west lawn, in the warm sun, and were mostly in wheelchairs, but wrapped in colorful blankets, and all had coats on, some with hats.
“We could see a few of the residents reading the signs out loud as they smiled and waved, and that happened with each pass by. We honked and waved and called out to folks we recognized, they smiled and waved back.”
The Legacy Home staff was out in full force with the residents, monitoring the gala event and catering to any needs they may have had. For an event that had been planned only two weeks in advance by Baez, the turnout was incredible. Although it may have been bittersweet to come that close without actual contact, it was a great step toward getting back to a new normal.
Baez and Lauck were not lone rangers in this endeavor and credited the entire staff of the facility. The event also was well planned just days before Mother’s Day, May 8, and so it was especially meaningful to both residents, families and friends.
“On day of, we were just kind of hopin’ and prayin’ that everybody would show up,” Baez said. “All our staff kicked in and helped each other get everybody out who wanted to come out and it was great. I think it would be easy to do again, especially if we’re in this longer, and families are already asking when we are going to do this again.”
The parade didn’t last long, but to families who hadn’t seen the faces of their loved ones except by way of electronic means in two months, it was perfect and it was a blessing. It changed the world if only for a few moments for a few of the senior citizens in Wheatland as well as those who were in the parade. And for those who have had loved ones gone on, who wouldn’t give up about anything to see a grandparent raised a wrinkled hand and wave at you one more time.
“I wasn’t sure on the way there what to expect,” Artery said, “but we turned the corner from South Street by the Lutheran Church...and there were cars lined up as far as you could see, and all of those sweet little people waiting. Gave me goose bumps and instant tears.”
Platte County Legacy Home is a nursing, rehab, outpatient and assisted living facility located at 100 19th Street in Wheatland, Wyoming. Their website for more information is: http://pcmnh.com/