Editor’s note: This is the latest installment in an occasional series called Maine Acts of Kindness, highlighting volunteer and philanthropic efforts during the pandemic.

Sarah Nute, left, director of life enrichment at the Barron Center in Portland, receives donated iPads from Kim Connell of Cape Elizabeth on Friday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Residents at long-term care facilities have been among the most vulnerable during the coronavirus outbreak. They’re also among the most isolated, unable to see visitors.

Maureen O’Brion-Snowden and Kim Connell, neighbors in Cape Elizabeth, realized that isolation has added to an already anxious time for older Mainers.

So they came up with a plan to raise money to purchase iPads for distribution at nearby nursing homes. The two women might not be able to close the physical distance for residents and their families, but they are helping to close the virtual gap.

“Your heart gets so full when you can pick up a call and see the other person,” Connell said. “There’s another sense. To have that physical and voice connection is so important.”

O’Brion-Snowden is a registered nurse in Maine Medical Center’s emergency department. During the pandemic, she’s seen how quickly a patient can be cut off from relatives upon entering a health care center.

That prompted her to think about how residents at nursing homes are in the same situation. Since the middle of March, most facilities have stopped allowing visitors.

“They have a limited supply of technology and usually limited funding,” O’Brion-Snowden said of the nursing homes. “So I made some phone calls … and they were literally ecstatic when they found out we had (iPads) to donate.”

So far, the two women have raised over $3,300, enough to purchase 10 new iPads and covers. Their effort also generated donations of two new iPads, a pair of new iPad minis and three other gently used devices.

The first two new iPads were delivered to St. Andre Health Care in Biddeford on Wednesday. The women also delivered iPads to the Barron Center in Portland on Friday. A Facebook page called iPads for Patients has information for those who would like to help with the project.

“The nursing homes, they’re out there in the public right now,” O’Brion-Snowden said. “People weren’t thinking about them before and now it’s reality and they’re going to be needing them more.”

Long-term care facilities have become hot spots for COVID-19, the disease caused by coronavirus. Residents are particularly vulnerable because of age, the likelihood of complicating medical issues and living quarters in close proximity to one another.

In Maine, clusters of positive tests from residents and staff have been reported at long-term care facilities in Scarborough, Belfast and Augusta.

Maureen O’Brion-Snowden, left, and Kim Connell have raised money to buy iPads they are donating to local nursing homes. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

All of which adds up to nursing homes adopting strict restrictions against visitors. Having extra tools for communication makes a big difference, said Stephen Alaimo, the president at St. Andre Health Care. The facility, with approximately 70 long-term residents and another 25 patients in its short-term rehabilitation center, has been on a visitor lockdown since March 14.

“During this time, with restrictions on visitors, it’s huge for our patients and our residents,” Alaimo said. “It offers communication face-to-face with their loved ones.”

The iPads also allow an increased number of calls to be made in a day, and provide easy access to music from residents’ era, said Samantha Beaton, St. Andre’s director of recreation.

“That’s why these are such a welcome gift,” Beaton said.

Connell, 54, is a hair stylist at a Westbrook salon. In other words, a nonessential worker who is not currently working.

“I don’t have anybody in my family that’s affected but I’m just one of those types of people that it’s just heartbreaking to see and hear stories,” Connell said. “Because our salon is closed, I’ve got time on my hands so, yeah, let me make calls, post pictures and do as much fundraising as possible.”

Both women said they hope the new iPads bring a bit of joy and an important sense of security that comes with seeing another person’s face.

“When a family member is sick, family rallies and tries to cheer up the person and you can’t even do that. This disease has caused us to isolate that person and that’s awful,” Connell said.

Alaimo said he’s already seen it work at St. Andre.

“The amount of feedback we get from the loved ones of just being able to see their face on the screen, it’s beyond words. It really is.”

Are there folks in your community going out of their way to help others during the virus outbreak? If so, please send details about their efforts to [email protected]

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