North Dakota Department of Health issued mandates restricting activities at nursing homes have been a difficult challenge to overcome. St. Luke’s Home in Dickinson has found a novel approach to keeping residents active and entertained with a little help from an electric wheelchair.

In the second week of March, Joyce Decker, the activity director at St. Luke’s, came up with the idea of having an electric wheelchair roam the halls with music. Under the guidelines created by the NDDOH, residents would stay in their rooms but be greeted by staff members and the wheelchair, which always had a different theme to go with the music. Following the visit, residents were able to have a special treat to go with the visit. They named the visits, “traveling activities.”

“We’ve had a lot of positive responses coming from the residents,” Decker said. “When they see the different themed parts, a lot of people say, ‘Oh, these are the good ‘ol days,’ a lot of residents laugh and sing along to the music when we come in also.”

Residents at St. Luke’s are able to have electric wheelchairs for mobility and the staff were thankful to have one donated to the facility. However, when residents were unable to use the chair, Decker and the staff decided it was the perfect prop for their festive needs.

“A lot of residents will have the [electric wheelchair] for mobility, and we had one donated to St. Luke’s,” Decker said. “The residents were not able to use it, so our maintenance staff put a shelf on there to put a speaker and lights on there also.”

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Along with the musical wheelchair, staff members visit each of the residents in festive costumes to match the theme of the activity, allowing the residents to have fun and socialize with others, even without the official group sessions. Previous themes have included revisiting the 50’s, Champagne Music, and the Hee Haw theme.

St. Luke’s resident John Benz shared his appreciation for the program, saying his favorite theme to date has been the Lawence Welk event.

“I think it is really cool and nice for everybody,” Benz said.

Among the restrictions implemented by the NDDOH, family members were unable to visit loved ones for fear of spreading the coronavirus to those most at risk. St. Luke’s Home found a solution by allowing families to see their loved ones through social media.

“Just seeing the smiles on their faces and the joy it brings to the residents is amazing,” Decker said. “Then add that the families are able to see their loved one smiling on facebook, even though they are not able to see them face-to-face ... it brings comfort to the families that have their loved one at St. Luke’s Home.”

Decker added the families are still able to talk to their family members through Skype, Zoom, and FaceTime and concluded by saying St. Luke’s Home will continue the “traveling activities” in order to continue bringing happiness to the residents. For more information, please visit the St. Luke’s Home Facebook page or call Joyce Decker at 701-456-8251.