Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the team at Landis Communities has been looking for silver linings behind the storm clouds of a once-in-a-century pandemic. Communications tech has provided some heart-warming stories of unexpected connections and brought joy to the hearts of those we serve.

In late 2019, the Landis Communities Board asked that I spend time exploring smart aging technology as part of an executive learning experience. One of the areas that emerged was communication technology that helps connect older adults with friends, family, and each other.

As part of a learning report shared with board and team members, I purchased a couple of Amazon Echo Shows to help demonstrate how they could connect persons via easy to use video chat. At that time, apart from residents who were already using FaceTime or Zoom for family chats, this technology was not widely used.

Larry Zook - Landis Communities_VideoChat_33pctjpg.jpg

As the pandemic began to hit in early March, I provided one of the Shows to my mother, who is a resident at Landis Homes, and the other went in my home. Mid-March, I successfully connected with my mother by video using my cell phone on the first try, and she even succeeded in calling me with her Show on the first try, too. A whole new world of video communication was launched with family who live around the world. This set in motion a connection between her and my four siblings, and with many of her grandchildren. The photo above shows my mother chatting with one of her grandchildren and several great-grandchildren.

Another powerful connection came as our Information Technology (IT) team equipped social services, pastoral services, and other team members with iPads and other devices to enable chats between residents and others. In early May, one of our chaplains, Anne Weaver, shared this meaningful story. Her subject line read "Joy," which is one of our guiding values throughout Landis Communities.

I want to express my joy this morning. I'm sitting beside Susan while she's watching her sister Mary's graveside service. Shivery Funeral Home worked with us to set up a microphone at the graveside and invited us to a Zoom session.

Our IT department set up the chaplains with iPads recently and so we are able to offer this support to our residents. Josh let me borrow headphones that attach to the iPad so that Susan can hear almost every word.

Before the service began, the funeral director took her iPhone around to every relative gathered at the service and Susan greeted each one. She was elated to see her special people. The funeral director also took the phone to the casket so that Susan could view her dear sister, Mary. They have lived together their entire lives (except the last year). She said, "I'm so glad that I could see her. It would have bothered me if I couldn't." Later, Susan said that the iPad format is even better than being there. She sees how windy it is and she's glad to watch from the safety of her room.

Now she's singing along to the closing song. It's simply one of the most precious moments I've experienced in the past six to seven weeks.

Praise the Lord for technology, relationships, and the Spirit of God who connects all of us.

Another story is of a health care resident who is approaching end of life, shared by our Director of Pastoral Services, Donna Mack Shenk. The resident is a missionary who served overseas in Africa for many years. Pastoral Services staff were able to connect her with a retired church leader from the country where she served for a very meaningful, sacred time of connection. Prior to the COVID pandemic, we had not made these tools available, though we could have.

We are grateful for each of these connections with family and friends, and among the resident community. At Landis Homes we held our first Residents Council meeting by Zoom, and it went off without a hitch!

In our Home and Community Based Services programs, Landis Adult Day Services part way through the pandemic began to hold virtual ADS gatherings to keep connected with ADS participants, and our lifelong learning program, Pathways Institute, operated in partnership with Messiah Lifeways, began offering virtual classes. With FCC grant funding, Landis Homes has acquired Curavi telehealth equipment, which will allow us to better connect residents, their nurse, and a remote physician in the future.

The COVID-19 pandemic has dealt many challenges and difficulties, while at the same time accelerated our adoption of communications and other technologies. These communication technologies have offered rays of sunshine that will bring joy and serve residents, clients and their families, and team members well for many years to come. We are grateful!