Glenwood Springs senior home makes ‘step in right direction’ with new hug tent for residents, family members |

Glenwood Springs senior home makes ‘step in right direction’ with new hug tent for residents, family members

Brewer Ballard talks to his dad Perry through the protective plastic while using the hug tent at Renew Assisted Living in Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
Perry Ballard hugs his son Brewer through the plastic hug tent at Renew Assisted Living in Glenwood Springs.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent
Brewer Ballard hugs his dad Perry through the protective plastic while using the hug tent at Renew Assisted Living in Glenwood.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

Brewer Ballard said once restrictions allow it, he’ll be taking his dad out of the Renew nursing home in Glenwood Springs on a day trip for the first time since October.

“I’m gonna take him up to the ranch in Eagle. And we’re going to sit by the river and just hang out and have a great afternoon,” said Ballard, a resident of Eagle. “I think he’s really gonna like that, … change of scenery and some interesting stuff going on. Just a break from the constant same day he has over and over again right now.”

Ballard was able to make use of the hug tent this week during a visit with his dad. Experiences Director, Laine Fabijanic, said the design of the tent came from a nurse practitioner based out of the Fort Collins area and is manufactured by a company called KD Kanopy. Children are still not allowed to interact with residents, but dogs have used the hug tent and there’s a lower section to make it accessible for those in wheelchairs as well.

“It’s three walls and then one panel that the residents put their arms in and the loved one puts their arms in. It’s all plastic in between and they hug. It’s really emotional, especially for the loved ones,” Fabijanic said.

Fabijanic wrote in an email Thursday that the CDPHE updated their guidelines and is now allowing vaccinated residents to hug their loved ones and touch hands. They still need to wear masks and use hand sanitizer before and after.

Ballard said he’s seen a rapid decline in his dad’s well-being since the beginning of the pandemic. Using the hug tent was a positive experience he is grateful for, he said, but it could not replicate the physical connection him and his dad have gone without.

“He’s got Alzheimer’s and the last few months, not being able to see his family or go out and do the things he enjoys doing, it’s sped that along. Which is pretty hard on me. … It’s kinda like drinking a (non-alcoholic) beer or decaf coffee — it’s better than nothing but it’s not the real thing. Everybody at Renew worked so hard to get this going, and I really appreciate that, but I’m looking forward to the day when I can give my dad a real hug,” Ballard said.

Fabijanic said the tent has primarily been used for residents in their memory care unit, who have Alzheimer’s or Dementia, and that their emotions can tend to be unpredictable, but that being able to provide a pseudo-hug experience for them and their family members has been rewarding.

“I think that it’s strange for a lot of our residents and unfamiliar, but once they are able to kind of get over the fact that there’s plastic between them, and they’re sticking their arms into strange plastic corridors, and then they see their loved one inside of the tent, and then they just melt,” Fabijanic said.

She also acknowledged that other staff, community members or herself aren’t able to replace the family members residents have been without contact, some for over a year now. Renew currently can offer table visits where family members and residents keep their masks on and sit across a table from one another under supervision from a staff member. But with the hug tent, a see-through plastic barrier that gets cleaned between uses, Fabijanic said Renew is able to accommodate for connections lost over the past months because of COVID-19.

“Human touch, human connection is vital to our well-being. And they get a lot of human connection here from our staff and our community but it’s not the same as having your mother or your sister, your dad. There’s no way I can be the daughter for everybody here. They need their own loved ones,” Fabijanic said.

Ballard and his dad were able to share a moment of physical closeness they had been without for the past five months or so. Although the circumstances aren’t ideal, Ballard said he is optimistic and eager that this is just the beginning for reconnecting safely with his dad.

“It’s definitely a step in the right direction and I’m just praying every day that it’s just the first in many steps forward,” Ballard said.

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