Pen pals lift spirits of nursing home residents

Broad Acres Nursing Home & Rehabilitation Center was “overwhelmed” by the community’s response to a pen pal program. Here, Sherry Anderegg (left), activities director, and Bethany Schweigart (right), director of business development, pose with resident Nancy Pilkinton.

Broad Acres Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Wellsboro has been overwhelmed by the community response to a Pen Pal program for some of the long-term residents.

Bethany Schweigart, director of business development at Broad Acres, came up with the Pen Pal idea.

“I thought it would be nice for our residents, “ Schweigart said. “With the COVID shutdown, they don’t have as much interaction; in March, it was a snap of the fingers and suddenly there were no more visitors, and I think they were frustrated at first.”

Although residents can have “window visits,” current health precautions continue to prohibit family and friends from entering nursing homes and other health-care facilities.

Schweigart approached a resident, who, she said, “is always up for anything; I knew Hazel would do it.” Soon six more residents volunteered to be pen pals, and Schweigart publicized the effort on Facebook.

Within two days, Broad Acres had received hundreds of responses, and the post, which shows a photo of each resident holding a sign stating their name and interests, had more than 100,000 shares.

“I thought we might get 20 responses, and that they would be local,” said Schweigart, “but we have gotten queries from Asia, Scotland, all over the U.S. It’s overwhelming, in a good way.

“Almost all of the residents participating had pens pals as children; I think that generation did it that way,” Schweigart said. “I think it’s a flashback for them. They are all alert, and can write letters back, even if some need our help.”

Schweigart is hoping to get more Broad Acres residents involved in the program once they see the deluge of correspondence.

“I wish we’d done this in March,” Schweigart said. “It’s going on four months now with no visitors, and it can be frustrating. Our activities staff is amazing and everyone is going above and beyond, but this gives residents something extra to look forward to. And, with things being slow, I can really concentrate on this program.”

Schweigart notes that anyone who would like to connect with a Pen Pal at Broad Acres does not need a particular resident to write to; those interested can simply address a card or letter to Pen Pals, Broad Acres, 1883 Shumway Hill Road, Wellsboro, PA 16901. Packages of craft supplies are also welcome. Staff will forward the mail to an appropriate resident.

The Pen Pal program is done with full consent of the residents involved and does not violate HIPAA regulations meant to protect their security and safety. Cards will be held for 48 hours and packages for 72 hours, in accordance with current safety guidelines.

“This is really amazing,” said Schweigart. “I can’t wait to sit with residents and see them open their letters; I hope they share some of what’s in them with me.”