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Keeping up spirits

Friendship Haven residents, staff carry on through pandemic

-Messenger photo by Chad Thompson
Friendship Haven continues to be closed to visitors, but staff and residents have found a variety of ways to keep spirits up. The facility recently held a “spirit week” and provided extra programming on their internal TV channel.

At noon on March 13, the doors of Friendship Haven closed to visitors due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It was a step taken to protect the almost 400 residents who fit into the highest risk group of potential patients — the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions.

It applied to everyone: townhouse residents, apartment dwellers and those living in individual rooms in other neighborhoods.

Since then, Julie Thorson, president/CEO of Friendship Haven, and her staff have been working hard to keep everyone’s spirits up.

Among the first steps: giving residents a way to communicate with the outside world.

-Submitted photo
Julie Thorson, president and CEO of Friendship Haven, shows off the ’70s outfit she wore for Friday’s spirit day as she holds the camera used to provide daily updates to staff and residents on their internal TV station. The spirit week was one of the activities they’ve done to help keep morale high during the COVID-19 pandemic which has closed the facility to visitors.

“We made a great effort to set up chats and Facetime with loved ones in the neighborhoods,” Thorson said.

Then they got dressed up.

“This week has been Spirit Week,” she said. “Staff and residents could dress up. Today was throwback Friday, I’m dressed in my best ’70s wear. We had a Western Day, mismatched and Team Day.”

The same will happen next week.

“Each day will be a certain color,” she said. “Monday is red. The residents can take part in their townhouses or apartments.”

The other thing they’ve done is increase the in-house programming on their own Channel 16.

“It started on the 13th when Rev. Jennifer Owen did her daily devotional at 3:15 then I came on at 3:30,” Thorson said. “Since then we’ve added an exercise class, interviews with our team, sing alongs and trivia. It’s a great way for the residents to see us. Keith Murphy, from Channel 13 Sports even recorded a message for us.”

Outside groups have also stepped up.

“The Sharing Kindness group,” she said. “They brought some care packages, created some sidewalk chalk messages and a group of them sang to a resident through a window for her birthday.”

Individuals have also found a way to still see their loved ones without violating the no visitors policy.

“Other families have come and talked through their window,” she said.

Thorson hasn’t lost her sense of humor.

“That works great for those on the first floor,” she joked.

For another upcoming project, she’s encouraging resident to put Easter eggs on display in their windows.

There’s some good news for the team members, too.

“Starting Monday we’ll have a 10 percent wage increase for all those who work directly with residents,” Thorson said. While the raise isn’t permanent, she said that it will last at least for the next two weeks. Beyond then, she said it will be evaluated on a weekly basis.

She’s also very impressed with the way her team members have stepped up to not only help the residents cope, but help each other cope as well.

“We had one team member who’s husband isn’t able to work,” Thorson said. “They were running out of wipes and diapers. The other team members stepped up and brought some in. They’re taking care of each other too.”

Thorson is proud of the family atmosphere among the team members.

“That’s never been more true than in the last two weeks,” she said. “It’s never been more clear how close our team is. It speaks to our culture, even in a crisis, we come together.”

The health, both physical and mental, of the residents remains their priority.

“Our doors will never shut,” she said.

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