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Hugs make big return

Blossom Nursing & Rehabilitation Center co-workers Debbie Leggett, clinical liaison, and Administrator Jack Nordquist demonstrate how residents and their family members and friends can safely give each other hugs through the new hug tent donated by Bob and Linda Sebo. Starting Monday, hugging visits can be scheduled every 30 minutes by family members at the Salem home off of Depot Road. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

SALEM — The power of touch returned to Blossom Nursing & Rehabilitation Center Friday, in the form of a plastic tent with arms.

The hug tent will enable residents to experience a basic human need they’ve been dreaming about for over a year since COVID-19 came to town — the feel of a loved one in their arms.

Whether a warm embrace, a gentle squeeze or the powerful bear version, there will be hugs aplenty come Monday when families can start scheduling visits with residents through the tent.

“I think it’s wonderful. They’ll be able to have that human contact,” Administrator Jack Nordquist said.

Donated by Salem residents Bob and Linda Sebo, the hug tent is set up for both standing hugs or seated hugs to accommodate residents in wheelchairs. Linda got the idea to make a hug tent after seeing an article about one in Colorado.

From left, Director of Nursing Lori Rusyn, R.N., Salem resident Linda Sebo and Administrator Jack Nordquist stand in front of the new hug tent donated to Blossom Nursing & Rehabilitation Center by Linda and her husband Bob, enabling residents cut off from family members by COVID-19 the ability to safely get close to them again. Linda actually made the tent herself after seeing a story about a similar setup in Colorado. Also pictured is Nordquist’s dog, Anders, a regular visitor to the Salem facility. (Salem News photo by Mary Ann Greier)

She thought, “We should do that for one of our local nursing homes.”

Using a greenhouse tent, she attached plastic arm sleeves normally used with broken arms, with a set reaching into the tent and another set reaching outside. Since there are two sides set up for use, there are four sets of sleeves. There’s also a clear area on each side to better see in and out. Everything’s velcroed on and she said the parts can be disinfected easily.

During the pandemic, nursing homes have been off-limits out of an abundance of caution for the residents. Some have set up window visits and there have been compassionate visits or hospice in extreme cases, but for the most part, nursing home residents are more isolated than ever before.

Director of Nursing Lori Rusyn, R.N., said this has been really hard on residents. She recalled one woman who had tears streaming down her face because she just wanted to see her loved one and couldn’t.

“They don’t understand why nobody’s coming to visit them,” she said.

Many of the residents have gotten the vaccine and follow the guidelines set up for the pandemic because they want to see their family and friends. There are currently 95 residents. Rusyn said both employees and residents get tested every week for COVID-19. They practice social distancing and wear masks.

“This will make them feel better. Now we’ll be able to give hugs,” she said.

Both she and Nordquist, along with clinical liaison Debbie Leggett, expressed their appreciation to the Sebos for the hug tent, on behalf of the staff, the families and of course, the residents.

“They need to feel loved. They need hugged and know somebody’s out there who cares about them,” Rusyn said.

Linda said she grew up in a nursing home, visiting her grandmother every Sunday for the first 17 years of her life until her grandmother passed on. At age 16, she got her first job working for Bob and Darlene Hutton in their nursing home in Salem. She’s always been drawn to nursing homes and had many friends in nursing homes.

Linda lost her dad four years ago and her mom two years ago.

“I wish I could hug them,” she said.

Through the donation, now others will get to hug their loved ones.

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