Friendly Visiting: Staying Connected During COVID-19

Long before the pandemic, social isolation was an issue close to many hearts in long-term care. The MS Society’s Friendly Visiting program was designed to help with just that – by assigning frequent volunteer visits to reduce isolation for people with MS in these residences.

Sara, a Friendly Visiting volunteer, frequently visits Judy*, who lives in long-term care in Calgary.

“Judy is so resilient. She has limited mobility but tries to make the best of every single day. She’s outgoing and always has a daily plan, whether it’s to enjoy the nice weather in her wheelchair, go to church, or go shopping. Sometimes when I visit, I help her with chores while we catch up and talk. After being diagnosed with MS myself three years ago, seeing people who live with the disease in long-term care can be daunting. But it also makes me grateful for what I have. Because of my time with her, I know not to take life for granted.”

COVID-19 has changed life in long-term care across the country. With in-person visits not always possible, many volunteers have resourcefully moved to weekly phone calls, FaceTiming, or sending emails or cards. Knowing how meaningful visits from loved ones are, Sara understands the negative mental health impacts of the strict restrictions.

“I can’t imagine how hard things are for people, especially someone as outgoing as Judy. She was only allowed to see two people a week and had no outdoor activity. Now, her facility is on lockdown and she can’t see anyone,”Sara says. “During my last visit, I was eight months pregnant and had planned to stop volunteering for a while. I promised to send Judy photos of my baby. But when the lockdown started, I decided to continue our visits remotely. I didn’t want her to feel alone during all of this.”

Logistically, connecting with people in long-term care isn’t always easy. Not all residents have access to an iPad or laptop to keep in touch with loved ones. Coordinating with incredibly overworked facility staff to access these, which are heavily disinfected between uses, can be difficult to arrange. Sometimes, staff need to assist people with mobility or dexterity issues connect to the calls.

Despite these barriers, Sara arranged monthly calls with Judy through facility staff and continued her ‘visits’. In May, Sara gave birth to a baby girl, and as promised, emailed pictures of her newborn. At the next FaceTime call, Sara brought baby Hannah to the ‘visit’ – Judy was overjoyed!

“It made me happy to see Judy’s reaction! It’s been nice to share my experience as a new mother.”

Judy adores the baby updates and seeing her grow each month. In a bleak time for many, Sara’s commitment to support a member of the MS community has created so much joy and a much-needed distraction.

Sara gives back to her community by helping people in long-term care feel less institutionalized, less isolated, and more supported. On #GivingTuesday, we’re asking our MS community to support services like Friendly Visiting, by joining our Giving Tuesday Match Challenge, where your gift (up to $50,000) will go 3x as far to help Canadians living with MS. Donate now and make 3x the difference for people affected by MS: https://bit.ly/363pcPf.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of the residents.

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