Class of 2022: Gerontology student develops initiative to combat social isolation in nursing homes through statewide scholars program
'Meet and Re-greet' empowers residents to build relationships with their neighbors
By Laren Kowalczyk '07
For the past several years, long-term care facilities have been in flux as they continually adapt and adjust to COVID-19 restrictions. An unfortunate downside has been the increase in social isolation among residents.
Bowling Green State University student Lindsey Murphy developed an initiative as part of her involvement in the Ohio Scholars in Aging program to help combat loneliness among nursing home residents. Murphy, among 12 students selected statewide for the program, graduated in August with a Bachelor of Science in gerontology with long-term care specialization.
“Even though you live in a nursing home, that does not mean you necessarily know your neighbor or know anything about your neighbor,” Murphy said. “It’s important for residents to build those relationships with one another because while some residents have a lot of family members who visit, others do not.”
Ohio Scholars in Aging, a partnership between the Ohio Department of Aging and the Ohio Association of Gerontology and Education, provides students the opportunity to learn about aging-related policy-making and establish professional contacts while gaining career knowledge and skills in the field of aging. Of the 12 students selected this year, Murphy was one of two undergraduate students among master's and doctoral students.
The "Meet and Re-greet" program empowers residents to initiate conversations and find commonalities among neighbors. Murphy implemented the program at Birchaven Village in Findlay, where she completed her 1,000-hour internship as part of her degree requirements.
While long-term care facilities coordinate group events like happy hours or bingo nights to assist in relationship-building, Murphy said it’s critical for residents to avoid relying entirely on those events.
“We want to put the power in the hands of the residents,” she said. “We want them to have those meaningful relationships with other residents so they can be there for one another.”
The program's first phase involved gathering unique facts about residents and bringing them together to see if they could match the fact to the correct person. The program is also working on designating residents in various wings of the facility as the unofficial welcoming committee for new residents. Murphy said the process will be loosely guided by staff but encourages residents to take ownership.
“Promoting social engagement and inclusion within our facilities is of huge importance,” said Bridgett Mundy, administrator at Birchaven. “Making clients feel welcome and a part of their new community is vitally important for their overall health and well-being. Lindsey helped to continue to promote this idea within.”
A passion from an early age
Murphy developed a passion for working with older adults in middle school after her grandmother, Sally, began living with her family. With her parents working full time, Murphy took on significant responsibilities in caring for her before and after school.
Eventually, Murphy’s grandmother developed dementia, and the family moved her into a nursing home for more specialized care. Those years spent caring for her grandmother and the process of transitioning her to a long-term care facility inspired Murphy to pursue a career in gerontology.
“Throughout that time, I was one of my grandmother's primary caregivers,” Murphy said. “When it came time to transition her to the nursing home, we didn’t know the process. We were so grateful to have people throughout the transition who did know what to do and thought maybe that would be something I would want to do in the future.”
Murphy, also a Navy Reserve hospital corpsman, is looking forward to providing similar comfort for families as she embarks on her career in long-term care administration. She is working in admissions at Sycamorespring skilled nursing facility in Miamisburg, Ohio, while she studies for her administrator licensure exam.
“I enjoy being able to advocate for older adults while helping them and their families understand the services we can provide,” she said. “I want to be there for the older adults who don’t have the same family support as others.”
Jennifer Wagner, MPH, HSE, LNHA, CEAL, instructor in the BGSU gerontology program, is confident Murphy will excel in her new role.
“Lindsey is a natural leader,” Wagner said. “She is highly motivated and jumps in when something needs to be done. She is very passionate about caring for her residents and really gets to know them on a personal level.”
Updated: 10/12/2022 10:47AM