Families reunite at Chicago nursing home after year-long closure due to pandemic

Chicago News

CHICAGO – After more than a year of isolation, a hug is more than a simple gesture — it’s also a reminder of intimacy.

Vigilance and vaccinations are two reasons families at Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care in North Riverside are reuniting for the first time in months, community president Gus Noble says.

On Thursday, WGN cameras captured a year-in-the-making moment between father and daughter.

“We get to hug! Yay!” said Carolyn Engleman to her 90-year-old dad Monty. “Do I really get to hug?” he responded. “Yes! We’re allowed to do this now! Yay!” Engleman replied.

Carolyn Engleman to her 90-year-old dad Monty embrace for the first time in a year

It was the first hug the two shared since March 2020 as a result of loosened restrictions.

“A huge relief to feel like there’s light at the end of the tunnel,” she said.

At Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care, Noble says he couldn’t help but recall March 10, 2020. The feeling of loss during the lockdown amid the coronavirus threat forced him to close the doors to visitors for the first time in 105 years.

“At that moment, as we turned the key, and heard this kind of eerie snap, a kind of daunting feeling settled over the campus,” Noble said.  

It was a sense of challenge but also a commitment to protect the residents. As the virus spread and then ravaged some assisted living facilities around the country, Caledonia Senior Living and Memory Care stayed safe.

Only one of the 85 residents tested positive, and she survived. But staying safe meant staying separated.  

“It’s been terrible,” Engleman said. “We’ve all just felt like he was so isolated and just…it’s been sad.” 

Throughout the pandemic, families have relied on phone calls, video chats, and window visits. But after a hard year comes hope. The vaccine has now been given to 100% of the residents and 95% of the staff.    

Gus Noble

“This gives us the ability to conceive of tomorrow, to conceive of what – like glimpsing the past and the future simultaneously – the way things were and the way they surely will be again,” Noble said.

Shots in the arms, leading to open arms.    

“The time we spent in lockdown was worth it this morning when I saw a family embrace for the first time,” Noble said.

“I’ll see you in a couple days, OK?” Engleman said. “Super!” her father replied. “Take it easy.” 

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