Bringing a little joy to residents of senior care homes has probably never been more challenging – nor more important – than it has become in the COVID-19 pandemic.
And East Valley publicist and Certified Senior Advisor Linda Arters’ campaign to engage students across the region meets the challenges while bringing some woefully needed smiles – and maybe a few tears of joy – to a high-risk population stuck in those centers with no visitors allowed.
Arters has launched an “Isolation Buster” campaign – calling on students to make “CareCards for Seniors” by hand for delivery to residential facilities for the elderly.
While sending cards to people in elder-care facilities might not be a new idea, Arters’ campaign is unique.
She’s laid out rules for participation that are tempered by strict social-distancing and hygienic guidelines that she had vetted by county and state health officials to protect seniors from coronavirus infection.
Those rules cover everything from making the cards to getting them in the hands of lonely seniors who haven’t been able to receive visitors for close to two months.
Arters said her idea may be taking on some additional urgency with Mother’s Day just around the corner and Father’s Day not that far in the future.
But she also said that even without those holidays, seniors in care homes could use a card to brighten their days in isolation.
With long experience working with senior care facilities, she got the idea in March when a friend had been locked out of visiting her mother in a care home and began thinking of the impact it had on that mom.
“I just thought about the immense sense of isolation,” she said. “We have to begin recognizing the mental health impact of these restrictions.”
Moreover, she noted, “Isolation can negatively impact both the physical and mental health of seniors” and has been linked to dementia and cognitive decline as well as a host of other ailments that end up in increased hospitalizations.
Before she even began lining up youngsters to make cards, Arters conferred with Maricopa County and Arizona health officials to develop a protocol for making them and getting them to seniors.
“It took me a while to set this up because I wanted to make sure we followed all the guidelines to keep the seniors safe,” Arters said.
As a result, she developed a webpage – artersgroup.com/carecardsprogram.php – that lays out detailed instructions for making the cards.
“It is important that they are made and that they are made safely,” she said. “Older people like handwritten cards. They’re not likely to be on Facebook, Instagram or even email. They come from a generation where people wrote letters, not send a text.”
Her website gives detailed instructions on how to make the only cards she will accept for delivery, starting with the admonition that their creators wash their hands for at least 20 seconds before touching a pair of scissors or a pen. They also must be able to fit in a 9”x12” envelope.
While getting the word out to kids, Arters also used word of mouth to reach care centers.
“I talked to the ones I’ve worked with, but other care homes need to reach out to me and agree to accept the cards,” said Arters. “They have to request this.”
She said the homes that are on her list have agreed to wait a day after they receive them before distributing the cards in order to provide an additional layer of protection.
To launch her campaign, Arters approached people she knew in the Tempe Elementary School District, where a number of teachers embraced the idea and spread the word to their students online. Soon, some teachers in the Kyrene School District picked up on it.
“I’ve got a lot of community people involved,” Arters said, adding kids in Gilbert, Chandler, Mesa and as far away as Flagstaff have joined in.
Some service organizations also are helping out and one, the Kiwanis Club of Tempe-Sunrise, is collecting money for creative materials, 9”x12” mailing envelopes and postage. People who want to donate can go to kiwanistempe-sunrise.com/index.php/carecards or send a check marked “Care Cards” in the memo field to Kiwanis Tempe-Sunrise, 1628 E. Southern Ave. #9-120, Tempe, AZ 85282.
Arters also has designated drop-off locations for the cards and for supplies that people may want to donate for kids whose parents can’t afford the materials they can use to make the cards.
Arters said that the cards she has delivered so far have touched some lonely hearts.
And she said that while Mother’s Day and Father’s Day may inspire more kids and even adults into joining the campaign, she doesn’t want the effort to be tied to any holiday.
“This is so important to these seniors,” she said. “I will do it as long as it is necessary.”