Nursing home residents finally venturing out

Nursing home residents finally venturing out

Jackie Harpin, center, enjoys Easter dinner with her family, her first non-medical trip outside The Villa at Saint Antoine in more than a year. Pictured from left, front row, are her daughters Jo-Ann Lessard and Michelle Gravel. In the back row are her sons-in-law Marc Lessard and Cubby Gravel.

NORTH SMITHFIELD – The last time Jackie Harpin left her assisted living facility for anything other than a doctor’s appointment or a flu shot, it was March of 2020 and the pandemic had not yet taken hold.

Before COVID-19, she and her daughters and sons-in-law used to spend every Thursday night together, either going out to eat or playing games at her apartment at The Villa at Saint Antoine. Lately, those long nights have been replaced with brief, 30-minute visits in the facility’s visiting area.

That all changed on Easter Sunday, however. For the first time in more than a year, Harpin, 86, was able to spend the day at the home of her daughter, Jo-Ann Lessard, for an extended visit with family.

“It was so nice to be with my daughters at their house. Like I said, it’s been a long year,” Harpin told The Breeze the following day.

The Villa at Saint Antoine and its accompanying nursing home, Saint Antoine Residence, are among the facilities that have reopened “off-campus visits” as the effects of the pandemic on nursing facilities begin to wane. Saint Antoine Interim Executive Director Debrah Putman wrote in a message to the communities last week the changes follow new guidance from the Rhode Island Department of Health and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

“I am hopeful that the changes being introduced will provide our residents, their families and our staff a bit of relief from the tight restrictions we have been living under for the past year,” she said.

Lessard said the extended Easter visit was “such a blessing” for the family.

“She was basking in the sun pretty much all day. To have those hours of laughing and talking and being safe – we all had our masks on and it was all good,” she said.

Lessard’s sister, Michelle Gravel, said there were no words to express how happy she was to see her mother.

“It was a blessed day. It really, really was. I’m smiling as I’m talking just thinking about how special yesterday was,” she said.

The two women and their husbands, Marc Lessard and Cubby Gravel, enjoyed a leisurely Easter dinner at Lessard’s home in North Smithfield. They cooked ham and lamb chops, their mother’s favorite, and spent most of the day outside in the nice weather.

Both women said the staff at The Villa have taken excellent care of their mother during the pandemic, but the limited visits have made for a long year.

“We’re really so appreciative of (Administrator) Tammy (Summiel) and her staff for taking such good care of our mother. My mother loves her life there, and she couldn’t be in a better place in her life,” Lessard said.

For Harpin, who’s lived at The Villa for three years, being able to spend time outside with her family was “very, very nice.” She looks forward to visiting with her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, whom she hasn’t seen since the start of the pandemic.

“That’s what I’d like the most, to see my family all together,” she said.

While The Villa has opened up off-campus visits, many nursing homes and assisted living facilities continue to require visits on site. Several local nursing home administrators said in their updates to the community this week they continue to assess case numbers and weather before deciding on any changes to visitation policies.