From ‘pen pals’ to real ones: Local nursing home sees visitors for first time in six months

Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 9:58 PM CDT
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GATESVILLE, Texas (KWTX) - Lonely no more.

Residents of a Gatesville nursing home whose request for pen pals went viral while they were on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic, can now see visitors--under certain rules.

After about six months, the lockdown at Hillside Medical Lodge was finally lifted Oct.5.

“It has been such a hard time on all nursing facilities across our nation.” said Susie Meelbusch-Woods, Director of Public Relations at Hillside Medical Lodge. “Over the past few days, we have seen many family members being able to reunite with their loved ones, it has been absolutely amazing to witness, lots of happy tears.”

After developing new safety guidelines, each resident is now allowed two approved “essential caregivers” for visitation.

“To be able to see our loved ones reunite, there has been tears of joy,” said Meelbusch-Woods. “This has just been such a blessing to be able to witness.”

Last week Miss Betty got to see her daughter for the first time in six long months.

“It was very, very exciting,” she said. “It was amazing, wonderful, and I was so, so happy.”

In order for essential caregivers to be allowed, they must wear PPE, go through training and COVID-19 testing, and their visits must be scheduled, officials said.

According to Texas Health and Human Services records, Hillside Medical Lodge currently has one active case of COVID-19 involving an employee, however, not a single resident there has tested positive for the virus.

Due to the loss of human connection while on lockdown, in August staff at the nursing home created a pen pal program for residents--and it blew up; within two months, about 25,000 packages and letters came in from around the world for residents.

“The pen pal program is still rolling strong, but there is nothing like that personal connection," said Meelbusch-Woods.

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