Healthcare program reaching out to seniors

Sharon Cole received her Letter of Gratitude from a Douglas MacArthur Junior High School student. She was surprised with the gift while at St. Bernards Total Life Healthcare DayPlace. Letters of Gratitude is a new program designed to help seniors feel less lonely during the holiday season.

JONESBORO — As the holiday season rolls around, health care officials say the most vulnerable members of society, area seniors, are facing more obstacles than ever before due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

St. Bernards Total Life Healthcare is being proactive, trying to make sure seniors are less lonely. Letters of Gratitude is her way of making sure seniors in its program know they’re not alone said, Rachel Rivers, marketing intake coordinator for St. Bernards Total Life Healthcare.

“Our participants live in their own homes out in the community,” Rivers said, noting an estimated 260 seniors are in the program. “I was thinking of some of our people who will be spending the holidays alone and thought it would be a great idea for someone to write a letter (to them).”

It wasn’t until the pandemic hit when she began to realize just how important socialization was to their clients, St. Bernards Population of Health director Becky McDaniel Ewart said.

“Some of them don’t have anyone but us,” she said, noting those clients who do have family members may be spending the holidays alone because as cases of COVID-19 continue to skyrocket in the region, families are faced with the tough decision whether to cancel family gatherings.

St. Bernards Total Life Healthcare has a team of 13 providers who manage every aspect of health care for the 260 enrollees. They range from managing doctor appointments, providing transportation to and from those appointments, and making sure clients have the opportunity to socialize.

Ewart said it’s the socializing aspect of managed healthcare that is challenging due to COVID-19.

“The goal is to keep them in their own home,” Ewart said. “We all know a person does better in their own home.”

Several members of the community have already committed to participating in Letters of Gratitude to seniors.

Ewart said Douglas MacArthur Junior High and Arkansas State University’s Alpha Gamma Delta sorority have both reached out wanting to participate.

Rivers said letter templates can be downloaded from the organization’s Facebook site.

“We have two different (letters), one for children and one for adults,” she said.

Rivers said she would like to see all the letters returned by Monday of next week so she can get the letters sent out by Nov. 23-24. Letters can be dropped off at 505 E. Matthews Ave., Jonesboro.

One regional organization, Arkansas Hospice, has had much success from a program similar to Letters of Gratitude.

David Edwards, director of communications, said Arkansas Hospice launched a similar program, called Cards of Kindness, which is an outreach program for seniors within its service area.

“We began Cards of Kindness to address the needs of companionship and interaction with our most vulnerable members of the population,” Edwards said.

Arkansas Hospice began the program in early April shortly after the pandemic began, he said. Residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities could not get visitors from family members or church groups, Edwards said.

“Their small worlds became even smaller,” he said.

Arkansas Hospice delivered the first batch of cards to a Little Rock nursing home and Edwards said residents’ reactions were priceless.

“The (facility administrators) came out and greeted us and we’re so glad to receive their personalized cards,” he said. “It was a huge morale boost for not only residents but also for the administration and staff members.”

So far, Arkansas Hospice has made 20 card deliveries in its service region since the program’s inception in April.

“If you could see the faces of some of the residents,” he said. “We can’t come in contact with them, but some would stand in the windows laughing or crying. Some residents would hold their cards up to the windows.”

Edwards said Arkansas Hospice is thrilled to see other organizations across the state take similar action.

“I’d like to commend St. Bernards for their program and I’m excited to see ours so successful.”

Those wishing to also contribute cards to the Arkansas Hospice Cards of Kindness program can find more information at arkansashospice.org/cardsofkindness/.