Covid-19: Pods allow safe visits to elderly during lockdown

25 October 2020 - 00:00
Alison Vezasie is delighted to have close contact with her sister, Terry Gabin, 64, in a Tafta pod for visitors.
Alison Vezasie is delighted to have close contact with her sister, Terry Gabin, 64, in a Tafta pod for visitors.
Image: Supplied

Alison Vezasie grew accustomed to peering at her sister, Terry Gabin, through the fence of her elderly-care home during a marathon ban on visitors in a bid to keep Covid-19 infections at bay.

Now months later the sisters have finally reconnected thanks to The Association for the Aged's (Tafta) Covid-safe visitor pod.

Visits to old-age homes were prohibited when SA first moved into the national lockdown in March because the elderly were deemed most at risk. When SA moved into level one of the lockdown, visits with stringent measures resumed.

Tafta, which runs care homes throughout Durban, initially faced challenges when some residents resisted the hard lockdown at its facilities. It had to find a creative way to curb growing disdain for the strict protocols. It then stumbled on the concept of a visitors' pod, which is being employed by old-age care facilities in the UK.

The pod, which is separate from the care facility, has a clear screen between the residents and visitors, with a telephone intercom system for them to communicate.
The pod, which is separate from the care facility, has a clear screen between the residents and visitors, with a telephone intercom system for them to communicate.
Image: Supplied

Located on the grounds of Tafta's John Dunn House in Bluff, the pod allows two family members to visit an elderly resident.

The pod, which is separate from the care facility, has a clear screen between the residents and visitors, with a telephone intercom system for them to communicate.

"During the height of the Covid-19 lockdown we were very aware of the impact of shutting off our elders from their families and friends, and the impact this would have on their mental wellbeing," Tafta CEO Femada Shamam told the Sunday Times.

"We began investigating ways in which we could create a 'safe space' for families to have some degree of contact with their loved ones in our homes and found a few homes in the UK using a SafeTime pod for visits."

Funding posed a problem until a local company, Ayoba Board and Accessories, and Old Mutual stepped up to assist.

Although Vezasie still cannot hug her 64-year-old sister, being able to see her up close is comfort enough.

She is relieved that she no longer has to do "drive-bys" to check up on Gabin.

Another elderly resident, Christian Bishop, is also thrilled to be able to see his family within a safe space.

Bishop's family visited him two to three times a week before Covid-19 struck SA.

"I am happy to have the protection between elders and visitors that the visitor pod provides," he said.

Ayoba CEO Shaun Mohanlall said the pod design was put through "various tests to ensure the space allowed for proper ventilation".

"When Tafta contacted us we were very much up for the challenge. The team looked at meeting the objectives of a safe and sanitary visit, with the additional consideration to providing an intimate space for family reunions," he said.

Shamam said visits are strictly by appointment and that because the pod is mobile, they are considering moving it to other facilities.

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