Jewel, a 30-something mare Nursing home visit

Having grown up with horses in Glenwood, Iowa, Edwin Johnson was happy to see Jewel, a 30-something mare who made a visit to his window with owner Sheila Carroll at Holmes Lake & Care Center.

LINCOLN, Neb. — They call it “window wellness,” a visit to residents of assisted-living facilities who can’t have visitors in the buildings because of COVID-19 precautions. 

In this case, the visitors — Noah, Molly, Bubba, Fuego, Doc, Sunny — don’t have much to say, but they bring wonder and joy to residents just by looking them in the eye, even through the glass. 

They walk calmly to the windows, lower their heads and look. It’s a meeting of minds of humans and animals. 

“It’s very moving,” said Sen. Anna Wishart, who in this context is just a Lincoln resident and owner of horses, trying to bring some comfort to isolated residents of long-term care and rehabilitation facilities. 

“What’s amazing is the horses are so curious, so they push their noses up against the window, looking inside.” 

Wishart, and other friends who stable their horses at the same barn, began making wellness calls to residents because after the COVID-19 quarantine began, she began to wonder how she and others might be able to ease some of the intense isolation and loneliness those residents were feeling. 

She asked for ideas on Facebook about how to bring the outside world to those residents in light of the no-visitors policies.

Her friend and fellow horsewoman Sheila Carroll said she had taken her horse Jewel on a window wellness visit to Holmes Lake Rehabilitation and Care Center and Southlake Village. Wishart decided she wanted to do the same at Lancaster Rehabilitation Center, where she had visited residents as an elementary school student.

She found a friend to furnish a trailer and roped in a cowboy at the barn, who was there training horses, to help drive.

“I mean, he was in his full gear. It was just great,” she said. “We spent a couple of hours going window-to-window. It was just an incredible experience.”

Some residents get teary, Wishart said, when they see the horses because it brings memories of a life they used to have on the farm. The expressions on their faces, seeing this cowboy ride up to the window, were worth it all, she said.  

After that first visit to Lancaster Rehabilitation, word was spread by families, nurses and staff, and other facilities have reached out to them for more visits.

At Sumner Place, the horses were able to go into a courtyard and be visible to residents in the memory care unit. 

“It was really fun,” Wishart said. “One woman kept saying, ‘That’s my horse.’ It was so sweet.”

Even with the challenges the centers are facing, she said, they welcomed the horses on their grassy lawns and didn’t care that they had to walk, at times, through landscaping.

“Everything was focused on the physical and mental health of their residents,” Wishart said.

And families have been really appreciative.

Even though the pandemic triggered the visits, the isolation and loneliness are not distinct to this time, she said.

“It made me realize that we need to do more of this. And a lot of the things that have been brought to light, that we need to help each other out with, are things that, really, long term we should be doing,” she said. 

The world is so fast-paced, and those that can’t keep up get left behind, she said. 

“We all need to take time to slow down, and go and meet them where they’re at,” Wishart said. “And, in a lot of cases, that means taking the time to stop by your local senior living facility to say hi.”