Deena C. Bouknight – Contributing Writer
Janie Key sees every day, firsthand, Macon County’s healthcare needs. She has been a nurse for 24 years. In the past few weeks, she has been increasingly burdened by the needs of the elderly – especially those sheltering in place at local nursing home facilities.
“Weekly they looked forward to visiting church groups, family members, friends,” said Key. “And now they can’t even walk about the home … go to the common area and look out the window.”
She added, “I really started thinking about a way to help them when this man, in his 90s, from my church [Franklin Church of God] talked to me about how he was so down and out because he felt secluded in his room and couldn’t go to church and couldn’t even listen to the sermons.”
Key decided to join with her friend, Christine Basey, owner of Christine’s Home Décor, in gathering as many smart tablets as possible to distribute to able-bodied residents quarantined in Macon County’s nursing home facilities.
“I get these ideas … Christine’s used to them,” said Key, “my wild ideas. She’s always helped me. A few years ago we worked together on a special needs baseball team. Saturday, we started spreading the word on Facebook in a message we titled ‘Hope of the Lonely.’”
The message reads, “We love our community and never back down from a challenge when it comes to helping those in need. Right now our nursing home residents desperately need our help! These individuals like so many others live for each day they can see their families, friends, and church family. Unfortunately, due to COVID and for their safety, they’re confined to their rooms. Having any close contact with each other or with anyone from outside their facility puts their life at risk. That risk is just too high. For some of us, these same folks raised us up. We are their future. We owe them. They are depressed, lonely, and scared. We ask that you join our group and us in purchasing iPads or tablets and donating them to our local facilities so that these individuals can see and talk with family members by video chat. We have talked with our local Walmart. We do NOT want you to go out shopping! You can go online and order and have them shipped to our local Walmart in Franklin. There are several tablets under $50.”
Key and Basey purchased a dozen or so tablets available at Walmart for under $50. Anyone interested in becoming involved in the Hope for the Lonely initiative can order tablets through Walmart.com and have them shipped to the Franklin Walmart care of (c/o) either Key or Basey. They will be held in a secure place until Key or Basey can pick them up. Already, the two women learned there are at least another dozen or more tablets that have been ordered.
Donated monies to purchase a tablet, or tablets or iPads ordered from other sources, like Amazon, can be shipped to Basey’s address; she has asked that people Facebook message her first and explain how they would like to help and she will provide instructions.
From speaking to administration at Macon Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, Grandview Manor Care Center, and Franklin House, Key estimates that approximately 100 residents could operate and would benefit from a smart tablet.
“People don’t need to buy an expensive tablet,” said Basey. “Just something to allow elderly in these homes to communicate … even if it’s just now and then. We don’t want to just get a few and have them pass them around because the point is that they don’t all need to be touching the same one.”
On Monday evening, April 13, the tablets the two women were able to purchase from Wal-Mart in Franklin were loaded by Scott Basey, Christine’s husband, with basic communication apps, such as Skype and Facetime, as well as apps that will allow users to share photos, music, and messages, and stream church sermons and Bible studies, for example.
“Monday was our test run,” said Key. “To see if we could connect them with Wi-Fi and make them easy to use.”
“It worked, we will begin giving them out Friday, the 14th, and after that as they come in,” said Basey.
“The staffs at these facilities are too stretched as it is,” said Key. “They can’t share their phones or tablets with the residents. Plus, it’s too risky. By gathering these devices, we can give one to each of the residents to keep so that can stay in touch and not feel so isolated. I’m worried about them not having hope … that they might stop eating or become dehydrated. They have very little to keep them going, so these might help.”
“They at least need to hear a loved one’s voice,” said Basey, “… have light at the end of the tunnel. We have to do something; these people are lonely. We are not doing this for ourselves at all, it’s for these people who are completely isolated. I get so upset thinking about them.”
Key shared about an elderly friend who died without having any family members by his side – due to COVID-19 precautions. “He passed away alone. No one should have to be completely alone … for all hope to be taken away.”
Basey, from conversations she has had with various people in the community, believes that people want to help during this crisis. Often, they do not know how.
“This is one way,” she said. “We have to get creative during this crisis.”
Key explained that when she told her fellow church member, who resides at Macon Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, that he would be getting a tablet, “He cried. He is looking forward to being part of our of Bible studies and talking and seeing family and friends. He prayed for us and our efforts.”
Other common ways to connect with residents in local nursing home facilities are to send letters, cards, and pictures. Children of all ages can send or drop off drawings or paintings.