Inside the box: a clever way to stay safe for elderly community

The exterior of the ‘connection pods’ made out of shipping containers, allowing the elderly to have visitors. Photo: Angus Delaney
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When one aged care facility in Melbourne’s southeast had to ban visitors to deal with the pandemic, a grandson of one of the elderly residents came to the rescue. Angus Delaney reports.

An aged care facility in Melbourne’s southeast is using shipping containers as an innovative way to allow family members to visit their loved ones during Covid-19.

Donwood Aged Care Facility CEO Natasha Wilkinson said contact with family was essential for residents’ wellbeing, and they were worried when they had to ban visitors.

They had plans to create makeshift communication rooms, to be knocked down after the crisis ended.

“Then on the final day of visitors, one of the resident’s grandsons claimed he could build us ‘connection pods’ out of shipping containers,” she said.

“Two weeks later we had a way for residents to see their families inside shipping containers with heaters, microphones and a glass divide.

The reactions have been so positive from residents and there are visitors in all day, every day to see their loved ones.”

Donwood resident Jenny Shearn, 83, has had several visits from a friend of over 50 years, Betty Hobson, who said she was grateful for the opportunity.

Photo courtesy Pxfuel.

I can’t believe how lucky I am,” Ms Hobson said. “I have another friend at a nursing home where they can’t have visitors at all, so this is wonderful.”

Ms Shearn said she hoped they would soon be allowed physical contact.

“I’m missing that touch and cuddle.”

Dealing with the pandemic outbreak had posed serious issues for the centre. “As an aged care facility, we are always ready for outbreaks, but this was really, really different,” Ms Wilkinson said.

“Compared to a normal outbreak, we had to do 100,000 times more.”

All people on the facility property had received a flu shot, food was pre-ordered, personal protective equipment had to be in place, and temperature checks done on all staff and residents daily.

As part of that process, visitors were initially banned. Donwood employed a pastoral carer and rang all of the residents’ relatives to explain.

“We were worried about the impact on the residents, because having their family and community come in is a large part of their lives,” Ms Wilkinson said.

She said although the nurses could offer some support, residents needed contact with their families, and the pods had made all the difference.