A concrete pad on either side of the front doors at Mount Alverna Village in Parma found a special use during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Patrick Welsh, Mount Alverna’s executive director, said there was a need to find a way that residents could visit with their loved ones while remaining safe during the ongoing health crisis. Welsh and others at Mount Alverna discussed the situation and asked members of the facility’s maintenance department to come up with a plan. They crafted two tall, Plexiglas booths that are open at the top. The structures flank the front doors and allow residents to sit inside and safely communicate with their loved ones. After tossing around ideas for a name, Welsh suggested Chatter Boxes — and it stuck. The boxes now sit on the concrete pad in front of the building.
“The pad wasn’t being used for anything,” said Beth Baszuk, who handles admissions and marketing for Mount Alverna, so the staff decided to construct the booths there.
Since they were introduced recently, Baszuk said the Chatter Boxes have been tweaked to make them more comfortable for residents to use. In addition to an intercom-type telephone, each box also has a ceiling fan.
The Chatter Boxes are large enough for one resident to sit in a chair – or wheelchair, if necessary. Their loved ones sit or stand outside and they are able to interact — to see each other and talk. Baszuk said the Chatter Boxes are scheduled by Joseph McCartney, Mount Alverna’s director of pastoral care and mission integration, for one-hour intervals. Residents use a Chatter Box for about a half-hour and then staff members clean/disinfect it before the next session begins.
A staff member accompanies the resident – who wears a cloth face mask while in transit – to the appropriate door and helps him or her settle into the Chatter Box. When the session ends, a staff member assists the resident back to his or her room.
Baszuk said the Chatter Boxes are working out well. “Residents and families love the idea,” she said. “It’s a great way for them to connect,” she said, noting one resident recently celebrated her 93rd birthday with loved ones while using one of the Chatter Boxes. Her family brought decorations and a cake and they all sang “Happy Birthday.”
Since the state banned visitors at nursing facilities in mid-March as a safety precaution during the pandemic, residents have been confined to their rooms. Meals are delivered to each room and disposable plates and flatware are used to help minimize any risk of infection, Baszuk said. Residents can watch some programs/activities on their TVs and some activities are available for those able to sit in their doorways – at a safe social distance.
Staff members work to keep them connected with their loved ones via Skype and FaceTime, but Baszuk said if a resident has vision or hearing trouble, those platforms can be difficult to use. Even though physical contact is still prohibited, the Chatter Box allows a more personal visit.
“The families and residents love it,” Baszuk said. In fact, the Chatter Boxes have been so popular Mount Alverna hopes to build a third one that will be mobile to allow greater flexibility for visits.
“We are so happy to see our residents and their loved ones uniting,” Baszuk said. “And we’re looking forward to June 8, when the governor said outside visits can begin for assisted living facilities.”
Mount Alverna can serve about 227 residents — 153 for nursing home care, 30 in assisted living and 42 in the new Ancora Memory Care Community that opened last fall. There also are independent living units on Mount Alverna’s spacious, State Road campus in Parma.