SmileMakers Station designed to let nursing home residents safely touch, hold their loved ones

'It's delightful to bring families together.' Innovative idea allows families to creatively reunite with loved ones in nursing home
ANAHEIM (KABC) -- For many people in nursing homes, the pandemic has resulted in nearly a year of isolation: cut off from loved ones, unable to have visitors or see family face-to-face, let alone share a hug. But now, an innovative idea is helping reunite local families with the help of some Plexiglas.

It's called the SmileMakers Station, a Plexiglas setup designed to allow nursing home residents to safely touch and hold their loved ones. Rachel Lumbad was one of the first to try it with her 72-year-old mother at La Palma Nursing Center in Anaheim.

"Once we got to the patio, I saw the SmileMakers Station. The moment I saw it, I already felt emotional," said Lumbad. "I just said 'Hi Mother, now I can touch you!' I just burst into tears. I held her hand, I was caressing her, I was trying hard to extend my hands and embrace her."

It's something they haven't been able to do since last March, when the nursing center stopped allowing visitors.

"This has been able to connect them back together and let them reconnect to their families and feel that touch that they haven't had in almost a year," said Paula Panganiban, La Palma Nursing Center. "Before this it was literally a Plexiglas window, there was no touching and people still had to stay six feet apart."

It's a gift from the Council on Aging - Southern California, which got the idea from a Florida man who shared his design for others to use. This is one of two prototypes in the region that was set up just in time for Valentine's Day.

"We took those plans and modified them, and then worked with a local manufacturer to build the SmileMakers Station," said Lisa Jenkins, Council on Aging - Southern California. "Oh my gosh, we were definitely teary eyed, I gotta say, but it was just fantastic, it was just delightful to be part of this and bring families together."

The Council on Aging plans to make at least 25 stations and donate them to nursing homes across Southern California.
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