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Video Project Helps Isolated Veterans Stay Connected

Courtesy of Long Island State Veterans Home
Joe Rohan, a Vietnam veteran, lives at the Long Island State Veterans Home. Like many skilled nursing facilities, the Home has had to close its doors due to coronavirus, which means Joe can no longer see his daughters or grandchildren face-to-face.

A skilled nursing and residential facility on Long Island that’s home to veterans of the armed forces is in isolation amid the coronavirus outbreak. A special project is now underway to remind those veterans that they’re not forgotten in the new era of social distancing. 

Suffolk County has one of the largest military veteran populations in the state. About 330 of them live at the Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook. 

The home had to close its doors to all visitors this month to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It’s turned the bustling facility into an unreachable island for families and loved ones.

For Vietnam veteran Joe Rohan, that means no more face-to-face visits with his daughters or grandkids. 

“I recognize the necessity for this, and I commend them on it. They’re protecting my life,” Rohan said.

The home has found a new way to keep residents connected to the rest of the world – short video messages from family, friends, and even strangers who want to send a “hello” to veterans. 

Fred Sganga, the home’s executive director, is collecting 20-second video messages to play for the residents. 

“Every nursing unit here has its own individual, big digital display board. We're going to be putting them all throughout the building,” Sganga said.

Rohan said the videos, especially the ones with messages from kids, provide more than just a connection with the outside world. They give him hope. 

“I can't tell you how heartwarming it was to see these young kids that were so positive in such a bad time,” Rohan said. 

“We heard that you could send a message saying that you were thinking of them,” Susan Agro said. She and her son Ethan created a video. 

“And I said to my son, oh, we should, we should definitely do this. So we thought this was something we could do to brighten and boost everyone's spirits.” 

Susan’s dad, Joseph O’Shea, was in the Navy. He lived at the Long Island State Veterans Home for about a year and a half before he passed away in 2017. Susan remembers how difficult it was not to visit her dad when the home implemented a three-day quarantine after there had been a case of the flu. Now, the COVID-19 pandemic means the home could face weeks of isolation. 

“If we were restricted from going in there and seeing him, it would just be so hard. I would be heartbroken for my father, it would be stressful for the staff,” Argo said.

Health professionals say regular communication with nursing home residents is important because it wards off the threat of social isolation. 

Professor Nicholas Nicholson teaches community and public health nursing at Quinnipiac University. He says a lack of contact with friends and family can make existing health problems worse. That’s why he says the video project at the Long Island Veterans Home is a good start. 

“I think that by showing that there's hopefully so many people that are appreciative of that service, and they can send these clips to them, I think it's going to help the older adults to increase their self-worth.” 

A collection of videos can be seen on the Long Island State Veterans Home's Facebook page. If you'd like to send a 20-second video for the residents, you can email it to Deputy Executive Director Jonathan Spier. For more information, call the Long Island State Veterans Home at 631-444-8987.

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Desiree reports on the lives of military service members, veterans, and their families for WSHU as part of the American Homefront project. Born and raised in Connecticut, she now calls Long Island home.
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