Morningstar Residents Go Hi-Tech to Connect with Families

OSWEGO, NY – Morningstar Residential Health Center, in Oswego, recently received an anonymous $300 donation which immediately was put to good use.

The appreciative facility said the unexpected gift enabled them to purchase a laptop computer for its residents and rehabilitation patients in order to Skype with their loved ones, as well as shop or send e-mails while staying at the facility.

Sharon Kirk, activity director at Morningstar Residential Health Center, gives resident Lori Appel her first lesson on using a laptop and Skype. Appel said she is really looking forward to Skyping with her family in Fulton.
Sharon Kirk, activity director at Morningstar Residential Health Center, gives resident Lori Appel her first lesson on using a laptop and Skype. Appel said she is really looking forward to Skyping with her family in Fulton.

According to Greg Callen, director of admissions and marketing for Morningstar, the only thing the facility does know about the donors is that it came from a group of employees at Constellation Energy who raised the money by selling candy bars.

It was decided that the activity department at Morningstar would be the beneficiary of the generous donation and when the idea was brought to activity director, Sharon Kirk, she knew just what was needed – a portable computer that the rehabilitation patients as well as some of the long-term residents could use to stay connected to their families and the outside world while at the facility.

“This type of technology is going to enhance the quality of life for our residents,” Kirk said. “We already have our digital healthcare in place and now this device is another piece of the technological puzzle to improve it as well.”

Under the leadership of Joseph Murabito, owner/operator and administrator, Morningstar has been proactive in jumping on the technological train to better serve the people under their care.

Over the past year, Morningstar has integrated an electronic medication administration record software system, or QUICKmar, and as well as getting on board with RHIO, or Regional Health Information Organization, both of which, Murabito explained, provide for better data management, clinical outcomes and customer service.

“When you have the technology to do key clerical or administrative functions for you, the clinicians can get closer to the patients and provide better customer service, which is what Morningstar is all about,” Murabito said. “It also provides our staff more quality time with the residents.”

Now, once more, thanks to some caring members of the community, the facility will use technology to help residents and patients connect with their loved ones through social media, e-mails and Skype.

Callen estimates that at least 25 percent of the Morningstar population will take advantage of this digital opportunity.

“When the idea was brought to one of our residents, Dorothy Spiegal, to see if this would be something she and some of the other residents might use, she was elated and was actually brought to tears by the thought,” he said.

Kirk said she is very excited about what this will mean to the residents, citing Spiegal as a perfect example.

“When Dorothy first came to Morningstar, we talked about what she liked to do and she said she had been working on her ancestral tree,” she noted. “She told me she would love a computer to continue her research, and now she can.”

“I am an avid computer user and I’m excited about the idea of being able to continue my ancestry project that I was working on before I came to Morningstar,” Spiegal said.

Kirk said she has already been busy setting up Skype and sending out e-mails to family members to let them know Morningstar is digital and they can reach their loved ones through telecommunication when they cannot come to visit.

“It provides the opportunity for family members who perhaps live out of state and might never be able to make the trip to Oswego to spend time with their family member,” Callen added. “Residents can now meet and talk with grandchildren and great-grandchildren they may never have had the chance to meet without this gift.”

Callen also pointed out that family members of some of Morningstar’s clinically non-responsive individuals are equally excited about the possibility of utilizing Skype.

“They are looking forward to using it as a means of therapeutic communication; allowing their loved ones the opportunity to hear their voice even though they cannot respond,” he said. “It gives our residents another way to increase their quality of life with us here at Morningstar.”

Kirk said the son of a new resident just asked her if Skype was available at the facility and she was excited to be able to say yes.

“They go to Florida in the winter and said it would be wonderful if the family could log in and visit with his dad,” she said. “I told him we just got a laptop for that purpose and we now are in the process of getting it set up with him.”

Kirk said another resident, Lori Appel, has family in Fulton who call her every single day to tell her they love her.

“Now they can jump on the computer and tell her face-to-face,” she said.

Kirk pointed out that most of the residents at Morningstar did not grow up with this type of technology, but rather than be intimidated, they are excited to learn how to use it.

“I showed some of them at a resident council meeting the other day how it works and they were totally amazed. They think it is so cool,” she said with a smile. “Most of them have never had the benefits of technology like we have, but they have it now.”

Kirk said this one laptop is just a stepping stone and they hope to get a few more down the road.

“Joe has done a great job making this into a cozy, warm environment for our residents,” she said, citing for example that he eliminated overhead paging nor is it acceptable for employees to call out down the hall to one another. “We don’t want it to be like a hospital and we respect the fact that this is their home.”

To that end, she said she hopes the new laptop will help to make it even more like home, allowing for more contact with family when wanted or needed.

“If someone were to ask me what my purpose is at Morningstar, I would say it is all about providing the best quality of life for our people, whether they are long-term or short-term,” Kirk said. “And I think we do a really good job with it.”