This is how care homes in N.L. are cheering up seniors during COVID-19

Get those tissues ready, everyone.

Get your tissues ready, folks

A mother and daughter speak on Free Newfie FaceTime at North Pond Manor in Torbay. (Paula Burke/CBC)

Paula Burke is used to coming up with new ways to entertain the residents of North Pond Manor in Torbay. 

The COVID-19 pandemic is giving Burke a whole new creative challenge, and she says she's up for it.

"It comes in my mind, I create things," said Burke, recreation co-ordinator at the 80-person long-term care home.

"Every now and then it pops in my head. If this goes on there will be a few more ideas."

On Monday, the provincial government ordered all long-term care homes in the province to stop allowing visitors to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which is particularly dangerous to the elderly population.The province acknowledged it's a heartbreaking move for many residents and families — but said it's a necessary one. There is no end date in sight.

I put it on Facebook — what the residents call FaceLift — and I said I'll put on FaceLift for ye.​​​​​- Paula Burke

Last Friday, Burke decided to find a way to ease the heartache.

She set up a station in one of the windows of the manor with "Free Newfie FaceTime" written on top, along with an Open sign. There are chairs placed on their sides of the window for family members to sit while talking on the phone with their loved one.

"I put it on Facebook — what the residents call FaceLift — and I said, 'I'll put on FaceLift for ye,'" she said. "They got a fine kick out of it."

She said the sessions have become a hit.

Former Torbay mayor Ralph Tapper plays accordion outside North Pond Manor with a birthday cake for an 85-year-old resident outside. (Facebook)

Then there are the birthday parties.

Balloons and birthday signs adorned the main doors of the building for a resident's birthday party this week.

The birthday girl was inside the door, and outside was former mayor Ralph Tapper playing accordion. Friends and family gathered in the parking lot with a cake.

"You can't describe it … inside and outside … those emotions," Burke said.

"We're on the inside teary-eyed, they're on the outside trying to put a smile on their face, but they're teary-eyed for the mom on the inside they can't hug."

Family members hold a sign saying 'We Love You,' outside Kingsway Living in Grand Bank. (Kingsway Living/Facebook)

About four hours away in Grand Bank, Kingsway Living has taken to social media to connect seniors with their loved ones.

"A lot of them worry about their children and their families," said recreation director Lisa Grandy.

"Some of them have children and family in the community while there are others that have them in other province and on the other side of the world."

Kingsway Living took photos of residents holding signs for their loved ones. (Kingsway Living/Facebook)

Residents used a white board to write messages to their loved ones with safety messages during the COVID-19 pandemic. Grandy shared them on Facebook.

Grandy said it's important to keep the residents as active and happy as possible. She wants people in the community to remember seniors during this time.

"It done my heart wonders," Grandy said.

"We can't do activities as we would do normally but we come up with ideas to keep them going and to try and get them to forget what's going on outside in the world."

Burke said she too is trying to shield the residents from the onslaught of frightening and tragic news from around the world.

"I can pick up on them.… A lot of these people say, 'Yes, Paula, I'm doing OK,' but I say, 'No you're not.' I go in and say, 'I know you're missing your family member,'" Burke said.

"You talk to them and tell them it's going to be OK. Don't ignore it. Talk to them."

Without guests, North Pond Manor has had to improvise for their musical acts.

It's a good thing Burke can sing and play guitar, too.

"The onus is on me now," she said.

"I'll put music into the program almost every day because music does wonders. For that hour, everything disappears."

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Ariana Kelland

Investigative reporter

Ariana Kelland is a reporter with the CBC Newfoundland and Labrador bureau in St. John's. She is working as a member of CBC's Atlantic Investigative Unit. Email: