National Skilled Nursing Care Week® (NSNCW) began on Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 9, and was celebrated through the following Saturday.

Founded in 1967 by the American Health Care Association (AHCA), the observance highlights the important role of nursing homes in caring for America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities. This year’s celebratory week is sponsored by Essity.

“We are grateful to Essity for their generous support of National Skilled Nursing Care Week, which was an important celebration recognizing the compassionate care provided by nursing homes and their staff during this unprecedented time,” says AHCA/National Center for Assisted Living President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Parkinson.

COVID-19 made this past year unimaginable for skilled nursing care centers, many of which were hit hard by the pandemic. Throughout it all, however, staff members across the country cared for residents around the clock as challenges such as social distancing rules prevented residents from in-person visits with loved ones.

Recognizing the amazing work of certified nurse assistants, nurses, food service workers, and other nursing home staff is at the root of NSNCW. The theme, Together Through the Seasons, honored the collaboration and commitment of skilled nursing care facilities and their staff in providing compassionate care to their residents every day during this challenging year.

While not all nursing homes were able to celebrate the week, many developed creative and inspiring ways to celebrate their staff and residents during NSNCW. Social media posts, photos, and videos depict a multitude of wonderful activities and events corresponding to the Together Through the Seasons theme.

Outdoors Together

For many skilled care centers, being together outside was the safest and simplest way to maintain social distance while still hosting activities and special events. Themed parties, cook-outs and barbeques, drive-by parades, classic car shows, Olympic games, balloon launches, dance celebrations with young and old, concerts, sing-alongs, and award ceremonies were just a few of the ways staff and residents celebrated.

Other events focused on seasonal celebrations like spring planting, with staff and residents working side-by-side to plant flowers and vegetables in both planters and dedicated gardens. Visits from furry friends were also extremely popular. Four-legged friends that made their way into many nursing homes and into the hearts of staff and residents included therapy dogs, horses and ponies, bunnies, pigs, and even baby goats.

Celebrating Together

Across the country, residents and staff were delighted finally to be able to gather together safely for the first time in over a year. At the Florence Hand Home in LaGrange, Ga., residents were thrilled to be together again to share laughs and s’mores at a festive outdoor garden party.

Other fun and imaginative celebrations included large group memory and Bingo games, themed costume parties, movie nights, Native American ceremonial dancing and music, and luaus.

Many other activities focused on past decades, featuring movies and musical gatherings from a particular time period, such as the hippie years of the 1960s.

Treats and special meals were also part of the celebrations, with ice cream trucks and s’more parties at the top of the list.

Creating Together

From art to apple butter, residents were invited to engage in joint creative projects. Building on the Together for the Seasons theme, residents at Lee Health and Rehab in Penning Gap, Va., spent one day painting and constructing a “4 Seasons Art Project” and the next day planting tomatoes, bell peppers, and watermelons in a special garden.

Creative projects were not limited to painting and drawing but also included yarn crafts like God’s Eyes, button art, popsicle-stick architecture, and colorful felted flowers planted in decorative flower pots.

Other creative events included staff theatrical productions and costume parties. In many nursing homes, residents honored their staff and caregivers in both heartfelt and humorous ways. Staff received hand-made cards, signs, and video-taped messages and were treated to special lunches.

At Azria Health Woodhaven in Ellinwood, Kan., caregivers received certificates of heroism as well as lottery tickets with a note attached that said, “We hit the jackpot with staff like you!”

Connecting Together

From coast to coast, elected officials made special proclamations in honor of NSNCW. In the words of Gov. Ralph Northam, “the Commonwealth of Virginia is thankful to the dedicated workers… [and] for the heroic contributions they make every day to the well-being of the residents and families they serve.”

Some proclamations were more local and targeted. In Darke County, Ohio, “Proclamation Day” was designated on May 10, encouraging county residents to place calls to friends and family in local care facilities with messages of love and support. The week also served as a special time to recognize staff in Darke County.

In a quote for the Sydney (Ohio) Daily News, Senior Administrator Kristy Earick of Versailles Rehab said, “Our entire team went to extraordinary lengths protecting our residents’ health, not to mention that of our staff themselves and their families as the pandemic intensified. We cherish the work they do every day; however, during these special weeks of honor, we especially focus on their compassionate care.”

The week was recognized in many unique and creative ways, but across the country, the primary focus was to honor and recognize the compassion and dedication of skilled care staff, especially during these hard times, and to celebrate the lives of residents in their care.

To view all the ways that NSNCW was recognized this year, please visit #NSNCW, Facebook.com/#NSNCW, and NSNCW.org. ■

Lisa Hohenemser, MPH, is marketing manager for the American Health Care Association.