By Shawn Chitnis

LONGMONT, Colo. (CBS4) – TRU Community Care created a “hug tent” on Friday for residents at the Hover Green Houses senior living community so their loved ones could embrace them, in some cases for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic began. The team behind the idea first saw it in Brazil and then in other places across the U.S. before bringing it to Colorado.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s pretty emotional, more than you think it should be,” said Janet Morrell, the daughter of a resident. “It’s nice to be able to actually touch ’em, I was lucky to have a compassionate visit earlier this week but we couldn’t touch.”

Morrell saw her mother once a day, if not more, before the pandemic. She essentially served as her caretaker before the coronavirus outbreak reached the U.S. But for the past eight months, she has only seen her mother a few times, including for doctor’s appointments and special visits. She moved to the Hover Green Houses in August. Morrell had an in-person visit earlier in the week but this meeting felt even more unique.

“The actual touch does a lot more than you think it was,” she said after spending a few minutes with her mother. “They need the touch.”

Amanda Meier and her family built the “hug tent” with the help of some volunteers. It cost around $400 but someone donated the canopy they used, which brought the expense down even lower. Plastic sheeting surrounds the tent on three sides; it is 4 mm thick, and set up outside in the middle of a courtyard in between buildings. Special openings through an embroidery hoop that have plastic all around it, allow for resident and family member to embrace without ever touching each other. Both wear special gloves as well that get discarded right after the visit. A disinfectant goes on the tent in between each meeting and sits for five minutes before its wiped off.

(credit: CBS)

“It’s just to allow a little bit of physical connection in a time when we’re so separated,” Meier said. “Imagining families not able to come in and be with their loved ones is one of the most heartbreaking things that I’ve ever thought of.”

She is a project coordinator for the Conversation Project in Boulder County with TRU Community Care. It was an emotional experience for her to watch and she is excited to build more, as well as help other communities create a similar experience.

“I feel like it’s sort of our responsibility as human beings to try to think of some way that we can contribute to this,” she said. “One of the highlights of my life.”

Morrell’s mother is not in good health so she is grateful for all the time she gets with her in-person. They talk on the phone and there are video conference calls but they do not get the contact they had before COVID-19 restrictions. She has tried other outdoor visits but because of the six feet distance requirement, it doesn’t feel the same to her.

“They look at you but they don’t really see you, the touch is really nice,” she said.

Morrell’s mother wore a mask as required and sunglasses on what was a warm and bright afternoon outside the living community. But her daughter could tell she was emotional even if her face was hidden. It was unlike any of the five other times she saw her mother during the pandemic, Morell knows residents like her are all isolated.

“It went from everyday to absolutely nothing, it’s been tough on everybody,” Morrell said about the visits. “She wasn’t sure she wanted to go outside and now she doesn’t want to go back.”

(credit: CBS)

Staff at the Hover Green Houses say they hope to offer this service again soon and give families more time together. The need to keep the tent sanitary requires almost as much time as the resident and guest get together.

“You can see the joy even though the masks and the tears and the heavy emotion,” Meier said. “It’s just a beautiful thing to watch.”

Morrell says she cannot wait to have another “hug tent” available for her and her mother. She hopes it becomes part of future visits where they also get time to talk as well, she encourages other senior living communities to adopt this concept.

“It’s really good for the residents,” she said. “I just wish everybody could find a way that they could not be so isolated, whatever it takes.”

To learn more about the Hug Tent created by TRU Community Care, contact Dallas Everitt at dallaseveritt@trucare.org.

Shawn Chitnis

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