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Gonzales Healthcare Center launches pen-pal program for residents

Michael Tortorich

An Ascension Parish nursing facility has just the remedy for a lack of social interaction in a time of social distancing.

Residents of Gonzales Healthcare Center share their interests with potential pen pals.

Gonzales Healthcare Center, located along West Cornerview Street, recently went viral with a Facebook post seeking pen pals for the facility’s residents. More than 2,200 users of the social media giant shared the post by the weekend, and about 100 commented with their interest to participate in the campaign.

Staff members posted photos of residents holding signs detailing their favorite hobbies for potential pen pals.

“Can y’all help us spread this so we can surprise them with letters from all around the USA?” the post read.

As the coronavirus pandemic has worn on for months, so has pervasive loneliness for many. It has been especially pronounced for seniors living in long-term care homes. 

Joe Gimenez, a spokesperson for the Nexion Health facility, said the campaign is a great way to give gifts and develop relationships.

Crossword puzzles, games, and treats are all acceptable gifts, he said. The staff will double-check food to make sure it meets proper dietary needs.

“The whole program is for everyone to feel valued, and to brighten their day,” Gimenez said.

Nexion operates facilities in other states, where the pen-pal program has been initiated. Locations in Denton, Texas, and Picayune, Miss., are among those to adopt similar campaigns.

Gimenez said long-term health facilities have been “very protected” and have limited exposure and personal contact over the last six months. Teleconferencing and window visits have been used to protect residents.

“But that only goes so far,” Gimenez said.

The programs in other states have been successful in connecting residents with new relationships.

“Residents look forward to receiving letters and gifts,” Gimenez said. “There is a tremendous difference in their spirit. They anticipate their day. Our residents are older, and some are not familiar with social media. Handwritten letters mean a lot to them.”

After local television station WAFB aired a story late last week, even more excitement built around the program.

The center posted photos of 6-year-old Randy Ferguson Jr. of Baker, who saw the story and wanted to help. He and the local fire department delivered care packages to the facility Saturday.

Letters and gifts can be sent to Gonzales Healthcare, 905 W Cornerview St, Gonzales, LA 70737.