The Little Sisters of the Poor Jeanne Jugan Residence near Newark has seen more than its share of sadness since the spread of the coronavirus in Delaware.
More residents and staff have tested positive for COVID-19 than any other nursing care facility in the state, and 11 residents have died due to related symptoms.
All residents in the St Joseph’s and Holy Family wings are being treated as if they are infected, living every hour in their rooms to protect them from contracting the disease.
University of Delaware senior Taylor Kunkel knows their situation well.
Taylor volunteers at the Salem Church Road nursing home weekly, trying to lift the spirits of those devastated by the loss of friends and the sense of isolation.
“Within my first weekend here, I recognized that a lot of these residents were struggling with boredom and loneliness, they’ve been isolated in their rooms for a really long time. We tend to take for granted the opportunity to be able to communicate with others at home or to get out of our houses and go for a walk. But they literally can’t leave their rooms right now,” she said.
Taylor, a student nurse extern who works in the acute care for the elderly at ChristianaCare, volunteered to take rotations at Jeanne Jugan residence during the pandemic.
Her first weekend on assignment, she quickly realized that the old buildings on the campus and their lack of a modern communication system presented problems for residents and the staff.
So Taylor worked on a creative solution — one she carefully hid within bright, joyful Easter baskets she assembled for each of the residents in isolation.
She bought walkie talkies for all 40 of them.
“I wanted to be able to bring them something that could keep them busy and help them conquer their loneliness. So my idea was to bring them some activities like Simon Says and puzzles, and coloring books.
“But then I just somehow thought walkie talkies would enable them all to communicate all together – from room to room, even with their doors closed,” she said.
Taylor also provided walkie talkies for each of the two nursing stations. She didn’t realize this at the time, but her simple idea immediately helped the nursing units work toward solving another problem – the low supply of PPE.
Turns out that the call button communications system at the Jeanne Jugan residence isn’t two way. Residents call staff using a button, and then nurses have to enter the room wearing PPE. Each time a nurse enters a room with COVID-exposed residents, he or she has to ‘gown up’ and then discard the materials.
Now nurses at the Jeanne Jugan Residence can identify what the patient needs at the nurse’s station before entering the room.
“So I figured, putting a walkie talkie at the nurse’s station and one in every resident’s room would decrease the amount of PPE they need because they could finally communicate outside of the room,” said Taylor.
Even though the walkie talkies she found were “a bargain at $450,” the nursing student held a fundraiser on Facebook to raise funds for the technology.
Taylor delivered the walkie talkies – 42 in all – to the residence over the Easter weekend. Each was wrapped with a bow inside pink and purple Easter baskets filled with puzzles, games, books and other goodies.
“There was definitely a learning curve, but that was also half the fun. I was able to spend time with residents teaching them how this new technology worked,” said Taylor.