In these difficult times, as thousands of people around the United States cope with the consequences of COVID-19, one of the most difficult things many area residents face is being separated from their loved ones. This is particularly true when one of those family members resides in a nursing facility such as the Cobble Hill Health Center. The staff at Cobble Hill uses a variety of means to build a bridge that keep family members connected and allows them to “see” their loved ones while still saying safe..

Christina Santos, director of therapeutic recreation at Cobble Hill Health Center, says that “keeping people connected” brings her and her staff a great deal of “joy and satisfaction” in their work. Christina, who is a 25-year employee at Cobble Hill, says she and her team help residents visit with their families by way of both video calls and so-called “gate visits” which allow them to see each other outdoors on the health center’s property.

The story of Cobble Hill resident Lila Sternglass is especially heartwarming. Christina says Lila has two sons, Paul and Adam. Paul lives in Brooklyn and is able to see his mother regularly. Adam, however, is a serviceman stationed abroad and cannot see his mom very often. Before returning to duty in Germany recently, Adam contacted Christina to see if he could arrange a visit with his mom.

Christina explained to Adam that while Cobble Hill Health Center did not offer family members inside visits for safety reasons during of the pandemic, he could do a gate visit. These visits allow friends and family members to make an appointment to see their loved one for 30 minutes in a heated outdoor gazebo in the health center’s back yard. Visitors and residents are masked and observe appropriate social distancing during the visits.

At the time of the surprise visit, Lila had not seen Adam for “a very long time.” Christina says she wanted to surprise Lila so she didn’t tell her that it was her son Adam waiting for her on the other side of the gate. Lila thought she was simply going out to the backyard for some fresh air. As they approached the gate and Lila caught sight of her son, Adam. Christina says Lila couldn’t believe her eyes and kept repeating “my son, it’s you, Adam, what a wonderful surprise.”

Overjoyed to see her son, during the visit Lila and Adam reminisced about family stories, laughing and enjoying each other’s company. Adam left for Germany that same weekend but was able to spend time with his mom before he flew back.

Christina tells another story of Jim Thompson, a resident who got regular video calls from his wife, Delores, every other day. Christina says Delores always “had the sweetest words for her husband.” After Jim got COVID and was transferred to the health center’s COVID unit, Christina and her staff took turns doing video calls with Jim and Delores, who told her husband how much she loved him and spoke about the happy moments from their travels around the world. Delores asked the staff to play Jim’s favorite song and told him she could feel his “arms around me, my love.” Christina says those words truly broke her heart.

For his part, even though he had difficulty speaking, Jim Thompson had tears rolling down his cheeks. Christina cites the couple’s video calls as an example of “the most pure and genuine love I have ever seen.” She says video calls helped Delores and Jim remain connected until the day he passed away. Both of these residents—Lila and Jim—were well served by the Cobble Hill Health Center’s mission of providing exceptional care that enhances quality of life and respects individuality.