Sudbury·Audio

Without visitors, Sudbury's long-term care residents find new ways to stay connected

Anne-Marie Caveen is used to speaking on the phone regularly with her father, and driving up to Sudbury from her home in Toronto to visit him at St. Joseph's Villa where he lives. But as they both adjust to new ways of living during the COVID-19 pandemic, the way they keep in touch has changed as well.

From video calls to window visits, people are keeping in touch, while keeping apart

Anne-Marie Caveen has been keeping in touch with her father, Donald, a resident at St. Joseph's Villa in Sudbury, through regular video calls. (Submitted by Anne-Marie Caveen)

Anne-Marie Caveen is used to speaking on the phone regularly with her father, and driving up to Sudbury from her home in Toronto to visit him at St. Joseph's Villa where he lives. 

But as both she and her father, Donald, adjust to new ways of living during the COVID-19 pandemic, the way they keep in touch has changed as well. For the first time, Caveen and her father are doing video calls — typically three times a week. 

"We spend a good hour on our FaceTime together. And at the end he's always sort of saying, 'Oh, that was such a nice visit.' So it's not a call for him, it's really like... a visit," Caveen said. 

St. Joseph's Villa has several iPads available for residents to use, and staff members will set up video calls for residents.

After nearly two months with no visitors, use of the iPads for video calls has "skyrocketed," says program coordinator Angie Gilchrist. She says more and more residents are embracing technology — and other ways of staying connected with loved ones from a distance. 

"Probably a good thing that we're wearing masks and goggles, because I've had a couple of real ugly cries in my mask, to be honest with you. It's just so touching and heartwarming." 

Embracing technology

Gilchrist says video calls are "fairly new" for most residents. For 104-year-old Vera Leclair, FaceTime calls have been a new discovery — and something she says she'll likely continue with even after restrictions are lifted.

"I love it, because then I get to see my kids," Leclair said. 

Her children are also staying home as much as possible, so Leclair says their conversations are fairly simple, as they discuss their day to day lives amid COVID-19. 

"We just talk about things I did. And what they do, and how they stay out of trouble," Leclair said. 

"They all have good neighbours. And they just, they all sit in their own driveway and talk, you know, or whatever. That's about all they do."  

St. Joseph's Villa programs coordinator Angie Gilchrist, left, sits with resident Vera Leclair. (Submitted by Angie Gilchrist )

For Caveen and her father, their regular FaceTime calls have opened them up to new conversations, and she says they're in touch more now than before the pandemic. 

Caveen lives in the Toronto neighbourhood where her father grew up. She's been taking photos on her walks — including of houses he lived in, parks, and schools — which she emails to the home. Staff members print the emails for her father, and they talk about the photos during their calls. 

"It's been fun, because we've had this interaction back and forth, and I'm learning new things about my father and his childhood." 

The calls have been such a success, Caveen said, that her father got his own iPad this week. 

'I miss him a lot'

For some, the physical distance is much more challenging. Aune Lahti lives in the Finlandia Village retirement community in Sudbury. About a year and a half ago, her husband, Fred, moved into the nursing home there, because he required more care. 

Lahti would typically visit her husband multiple times a day, including wheeling him back to her apartment each day to spend the afternoon together, and eat dinner. She says it's been "very hard" not being able to visit her husband for nearly two months. 

"I miss him a lot and I love him, and I would like to see him, " Lahti said. 

Aune Lahti usually visits her husband, Fred, several times a day, but they've been physically separated amid COVID-19. (Submitted by Aune Lahti)

Lahti says staff members recently gave the pair a set of walkie talkies, to help them keep in touch. 

"I stand outside the window, and he is in his wheelchair inside by the window. And we can speak," Lahti said. "Those discussions are fairly short, but the main thing is that I can see and he can hear by voice. And he recognizes me." 

Lahti says she'd grateful to be able to see her husband through the window, and she has found it reassuring. But more than anything, she's looking forward to the end of the pandemic, when they can spend their afternoons together once again.

"He mostly sleeps in his wheelchair, even during the day. But just having him here is such a, such a blessing."

COVID-19 has made it challenging for people in long term care facilities to stay connected with friends and family. Many seniors have had to learn to use technology to get around the physical isolation required to beat the pandemic. The CBC's Sarah MacMillan spoke with residents and staff of long term care facilities in Sudbury to find out how people are staying connected. 7:50

About the Author

Sarah MacMillan is a reporter with CBC Sudbury. She previously worked with CBC P.E.I. You can contact her at sarah.macmillan@cbc.ca

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