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Holiday celebrations, activities return to skilled nursing facilities after pandemic year

Published on Nov 16, 2021

From Halloween through New Year’s celebrations, the holidays are an important time for friends and families to celebrate together. Patients receiving care in a Skilled Nursing Facility (SNF) can sometimes feel isolated from their families’ celebrations. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in-person visits and gatherings in 2020 were limited. 

This Halloween marked one of the first major holidays to celebrate since COVID-19 vaccines became widely available in late December 2020. Employees and patients were beyond thrilled to celebrate.  

“I was more excited than a kid would be for the fall and Halloween activities this year. We had a tremendous amount of participation from patients and employees,” said Brandon Hall, Activities Director, McDowell Nursing & Rehabilitation Center. “Even though we still follow social distancing guidelines, both employees and patients felt like it was ‘old times’ again.”

Feelings of elation were felt in more than one SNF knowing more normal traditions will hopefully soon be following. “To see the joy on the patient’s faces when they were able to have a pumpkin patch-like experience and to watch as they enjoyed a little bit of ‘normal’ was an amazing experience. To be able to give the patients a little bit of ‘normal’ in this time that has turned their world upside down is a memory that my team and I will keep for a long time,” said Mercer Nursing & Rehabilitation Center Activity Director Jan Pence. 

With Halloween over, the attention turns to getting ready for the biggest holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas. With patients and families having more freedom in connecting with one another, SNFs are busy planning for the 2021 holidays. 

Here are some of the ways SNFs can make the holidays special for patients, families, and employees. Please note some of these activities may have to be adapted to follow any current COVID-19 recommendations. 

Decorations: 
One of the most fun ways to ensure patients can participate in holiday activities are to have them help make decorations for Christmas trees and help decorate the tree, or trees throughout a SNF. Another fun idea could be a door or hallway decoration contest. 

Find the Elf: 
Based on the popular “Elf on a Shelf” activity parents do each Christmas holiday, employees can hide an elf doll around the center and the patient that finds it can win a small prize. 

Holiday Movie Night: 
Fire up the popcorn machine, turn down the lights and enjoy holiday classics such as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Miracle on 34th Street,” “White Christmas,” or new modern favorites such as “Elf” and “National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.” 

Making Ugly Sweaters: 
A popular and fun activity could be helping patients make ugly sweaters. Different materials can be used to decorate sweaters while patients enjoy holiday-themed cookies, treats such as hot chocolate, and holiday music. 

Invite Church or Schools to sing Christmas Carols: 
Local schools or churches can bring some holiday spirit to SNFs by visiting to sing Christmas Carols. In 2020, many patients got to enjoy Christmas songs from their rooms while groups sang at each patient’s window. Hopefully for 2021, Christmas carols will be enjoyed in a dining or common room.  

Shopping Events: 
Patients may miss the shopping experience. Buying gifts for loved ones is an important part of the holiday experience. Local stores may be willing to work with a SNF to set-up a smaller version of their store in the dining hall or another large enough location in the SNF to accommodate patients, employees, and store representatives. 

Read about Best Practice Award winner Wyoming Nursing & Rehabilitation Center’s shopping store program for more ideas: https://bit.ly/3bPHjKM.

Collecting Clothes/Food for the community: 
A SNF can get patients, employees, family members and the community in the holiday spirit by hosting a drive to provide warm clothing for area children or canned and non-perishable food for families in need.  

Holiday Feast: 
Of course, being together with family and friends to enjoy great food is a holiday tradition for nearly everyone. Traditionally, most SNFs plan a holiday meal for patients and their families to enjoy together for both Thanksgiving and Christmas.   

This is an exciting time as many holiday celebrations have returned after a hiatus in 2020. Patients, families, employees, and the community can all work together to ensure patients receiving care in a SNF have a joyous and happy holiday season. 

Author: Brandon S. Totten
Community Relations Manager, AMFM Nursing & Rehabilitation Centers