Houston-area senior facility staff members step in to help residents celebrate Christmas

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- As the holidays approach in an already challenging year, senior living facilities are stepping up in ways they have not before.

Staff members said they saw seniors struggle with depression and weight loss from being isolated from their families to avoid COVID-19 exposure.

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"Over the last year, we have seen a decline in our residents not getting that physical touch and that emotional support from their loved ones," said Amie McNatty, manager of resident care with the Autumn Grove Cottage in The Woodlands.

Carol Stokes, executive director of Rosemont in Humble, said her staff had to adjust the way they were interacting with residents to engage them. She believes they have gotten through the toughest part and are beginning to see the residents happier.

Many assisted living facilities and nursing homes were on lockdown for months and residents' families could not visit them face-to-face. Recently, some have begun allowing "essential visitors" in. Others have set up special rooms with plexiglass to separate the seniors from their family, while still allowing them to visit in-person.

Still this Christmas, staff said they are seeing fewer residents leaving the facilities to spend time with their families. Depending on the facility, leaving would require some to quarantine for several days once they returned. Other facilities will give day passes that do not require seniors to isolate but instead allow them to re-enter, wear their mask, social distance, and get regular temperature checks.

Staff members said they have stepped up in ways they have not before.

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"While we are zooming with a family member, I am holding that resident's hand," Edward Craft, community enrichment director at the Village at Sugar Land, said. "I am hugging that person. If they can't get it from their own daughter or their own son, who are they going to get it from?"

In addition to providing emotional support, they have also tried to provide fun holiday-themed activities. For some, that is live music, cookies, and hot chocolate, holiday cards, gifts, and visits from Santa.

Martha Pastor with The Auberge at Sugar Land said they set up a Christmas village with a life-sized snow globe. The seniors at the memory care facility were able to have cookies, snowball fights and write letters to Santa all while dressed up and caroling.

"It's all about creating that illusion and that effect and taking them back to a time where they were able to do these things with their own families," Pastor said.

Some seniors will spend Christmas in-person with their families. Others will visit them virtually. Staff at various facilities said they have setups to make it easier for residents to Zoom with their loved ones.

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