If you wander the halls of Buffalo Hill Terrace or the Immanuel Skilled Care Center on an ordinary day, you’ll notice that many residents are visiting with family members, friends, and other loved ones.  Just over a year ago, the COVID-19 pandemic swept through our community and the world, requiring Immanuel Lutheran Communities to close to visitors.  This meant that our residents were unable to visit with those who do not live within our walls. 

We know that socialization with friends and family is critical to resident well-being, so our teams immediately started working on ways to help residents see those they love.  We started by expanding our remote visitation options by purchasing iPads, acquiring additional iN2L (It’s Never Too Late) computer systems, and making preparations to install a connected theater system in the Skilled Care Center.  This worked well, and residents embraced the technology.

However, nothing can replace in-person visitation.  So, we started thinking about ways to make it possible for residents and their loved ones to see each other safely.  Our first step was to install an outdoor visitation area at Buffalo Hill Terrace.  We added a glass barrier to an existing patio, creating a place where independent and assisted living residents could visit with friends and family.  Thanks to the generosity of our donors, we were able to add a retractable awning to keep the sun and rain off of residents during visits.

This outdoor space worked beautifully in the summer, but it was only for Buffalo Hill Terrace residents, and as temperatures cooled, it wasn’t quite as pleasant to use as it was initially. So, with the help of grants from the state and more generosity from our community of donors, we installed glass-walled visiting spaces at both the Immanuel Skilled Care Center and Buffalo Hill Terrace.  To make these spaces even more functional, they include wireless adaptive communication systems with headphones that allow users to adjust the volume and hear each other more clearly.

We’re open to visitors again, now, and residents can once again host those they love in their apartments or rooms.  Still, we are happy to have these new, permanent visitation spaces.  When future epidemics (like the flu) require us to close to visitors, residents will still be able to visit with those they love most while staying safe from infection.  Your gifts to this project will thus continue to improve the resident experience long into the future.

In 2019, thanks to a grant from the William and Blanche Hetzel Foundation, the Immanuel Foundation was able to help Immanuel Lutheran Communities acquire its first iN2L (It’s Never Too Late) system for our residents with dementia.  This system provides stimulation, entertainment, and remote communication with family members. 

Designed especially for seniors with dementia, the iN2L includes a large touch screen as well as a webcam and other connectivity features.  Each resident has a personalized profile from which they can navigate to the games and experiences they most enjoy.  For example, one resident loves to play the “bubble popping” game, in which she tracks bubbles that appear on screen and then pops them.  In addition to providing entertainment, this game also provides offers mental stimulation and the ability to practice hand-eye coordination.  Some residents enjoy just watching others play the bubble popping game and cheering them on.  In these ways, the iN2L plays a therapeutic and social role in the residents’ experience.

Our first iN2L has been in use in the Lodge at Buffalo Hill for about two years.  Recently, thanks to state grants and individual donations, we’ve been able to add two new units in the Immanuel Skilled Care Center.  This means that residents who require skilled nursing care—many of whom are low-income—now also have access to this technology.  They can play games, revisit old haunts via Google street view, and visit remotely with their families via Skype.

In fact, the iN2L systems have been a particular boon during the coronavirus crisis.  All of Immanuel Lutheran Communities was closed to visitors from mid-March 2020 until March 2021.  Residents could not see their loved ones in-person for much of this time, and when they were able to meet, they had glass barriers between them.  The iN2L provided an easy, familiar way for residents to communicate remotely with their family members.  Staff can preload family contact info into a resident’s profile, and during calls, residents can see their loved ones on the screen.  Staff have noted that the iN2L “takes technology out of” video calling, making this vital contact easier for both staff and residents.

Thank you so much to all the donors who helped us add this technology to our community!  Our residents love using it, and it has made a meaningful difference in their lives.

Wow!  It has been a year since life at Immanuel Lutheran Communities—as in the rest of the world—changed due to COVID-19.  Our community has faced some challenges, including illness among our residents and staff members, but we have faced these challenges together and with the support of our wonderful community of donors.  As we begin to reopen parts of our campus and look toward the future, we would like to take a moment to thank all of the people who helped our residents and staff adapt to life in the pandemic.

First of all, we have benefited from the sewing skills of over 170 volunteers in the Flathead Valley and beyond.  Last spring, when critical PPE like masks and medical gowns suddenly became both more necessary and harder to find than ever before, we issued a call for help.  Our community responded with energy and generosity and in the past year these individuals have sewn over 1700 gowns and 1500 masks.  We would like to expend special thanks to Cindy Riebe and Charline Payne, who organized these efforts and helped make sure our volunteers had the resources they needed.  These volunteers’ dedication made an enormous difference in our ability to meet our PPE needs.

We are also grateful to all the donors who helped our residents stay remotely connected to their loved ones while we were closed to visitors due to the pandemic.  Thanks to your generosity and grants from the state of Montana and several foundations, we were able to purchase several iPads, two additional iN2L (It’s Never Too Late) systems, and a connected theater system that will soon be installed in the Immanuel Skilled Care Center. 

Taken together, these technologies provide residents with a range of options for communicating electronically with their loved ones.  They can communicate via FaceTime in their rooms on an iPad or see a somewhat bigger screen on the mobile iN2L—a touchscreen the size of a small television.  In coming months, they’ll have the opportunity to see their loved ones life-sized using the Connected Theater System.  If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that seniors are willing to embrace technology.  Many residents have enjoyed these systems so much that they continue to use them even though they can now see visitors in person.

These are only two of the many projects our donors and volunteers have assisted with during this challenging time.  Donor funds have also helped with projects ranging from infection control to building upgrades to support operational changes.  We are so thankful for everything you’ve done in this past year and continue to do.  You truly make a difference in the lives of Flathead Valley seniors.