New ‘visitation stations’ means more reunions and less depression at retirement homes


BALLWIN, Mo. – There was an emotional reunion for two sisters at the Ballwin Ridge care facility months in the making. None of the residents at the home has COVID-19 but visitors are still not allowed inside the building.

Depression is now the biggest issue at the facility, according to residents and staff. A new mobile visitation station is now changing that. The home hosted its first visit at the station on Wednesday.

The station has multiple tall, wood-framed, plexiglass panels. It was set up just outside the front doors when Michelle Gianella came to see her sister, Mignon, who lives at Ballwin Ridge.

After nine months, sisters who live just a few miles apart finally got see each other in person and feel like sisters again. They visited for about 40 minutes, chatting and laughing once more.

“She looks good and her eyes lit up,” Michelle said. “It brought tears to my eyes to be able to see her and only be a couple of feet from her.”

“It almost made me cry. She’s basically the only family I have left,” Mignon said. “It’s been way too long.”

Two months ago, a worker for Reach LTC, which operates 17 homes across Missouri (including Ballwin Ridge), sketched an idea for a spot to allow in-person visits again. She shared it with Lowe’s Home Improvement stores via social media, hoping for tips on how to build one.

Last month, the visitation stations started arriving at all of the Reach LTC homes. All were built and donated by Lowe’s workers, following the lead of Jen Ingle’s Hannibal store, who designed and constructed the first prototype.

Ingle was there for the first visit at Ballwin Ridge.

“To feel that close and that connected to it, it couldn’t bring more warmth to my heart,” Ingle said.

“You took my awful sketch and turned it into a holiday dream come true. Thank you from all of us,” said Jen Ryan Galantowicz of Reach LTC, who authored that original sketch.

The Ballwin Ridge staff has noticed a rise in indicators of depression among residents. COVID-19 concerns have forced them to spend most of their time in their rooms, Mignon said. Most of the common areas, including activity rooms and the cafeteria, are decorated for the season but remain empty.

“We’re going to see (residents) get a little happier. There’s something for them to look (forward to now),” Dave Murphy, the CEO for Reach LTC, said. “The Lowe’s visitation center is a big hit. We have people already scheduling their time when their families are coming in.”

No one knows that better than Mignon Gianella, who’d just spent her best 30 minutes since March with her sister.

“I really, really miss you. I can’t wait until this is over. I can’t wait,” she said.

Holiday visits are being scheduled for the home’s 45 residents, according to the Ballwin Ridge manager.

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