NORTH SMITHFIELD – It’s been one week since those staying at the Saint Antoine Residence – a nursing and rehabilitative care center on Rhodes Avenue – have seen outside friends or family.
The facility – like others across the state – restricted visitors from entering the property over fears of the spread of COVID 19, beginning on Tuesday, March 17.
But last night, the community showed those in Saint Antoine’s care that they have not been forgotten.
Dozens of locals took part in “Monday Night Lights,” an idea inspired by a similar ritual that takes place nightly at Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence. The “Good Night Lights” project shows support for those in Hasbro care, with groups of well-wishers blinking lights outside the hospital, while patients watch from the windows of their rooms above.
At Saint Antoine, participants were asked to remain in their cars and roll down their windows so those inside could see their faces. Organizers encouraged family members to decorate their vehicles with streamers, balloons and posters.
“It was amazing,” said April Paniccia, director of social services for the facility of the turnout.
With direction from staff, Paniccia said some 70 cars drove through the property at the Residence with lights blinking for more than an hour.
“We had signage with arrows directing people which driveway to come down,” Paniccia explained.
The director said the idea came from a third-shift nurse as a way to stop residents from feeling isolated. Paniccia brought the idea to her administrator and families were notified of the impromptu plan by email Friday night.
And at 6:45 p.m. on Monday, March 23, the cars started piling in.
The caravan drove loops around the property, with Paniccia herself leading the way. Some visitors did the course once or twice and drove off, but many others remained. Around 7:15, she said they had to stop the procession to let even more people in.
Inside the facility, “They were coming to the windows,” Paniccia said.
Monday’s event was limited to The Residence due to logistics. The Villa, a second Saint Antoine facility dedicated to assisted living, is not as easily accessible by roadway.
But Paniccia notes that they’ve planned other ways to raise residents’ spirits, from FaceTime calls with loved ones, to hallway BINGO and Spirit Week, where staff is asked to dress up.
They are all ways, she notes, to keep those in their care engaged during a difficult time, and make sure they know that people are thinking of them.
“We’re thinking of things outside the box every day,” Paniccia said.
On Monday, the poor weather didn’t stop the parade, which the director said was also aimed at showing support for the facility’s hard working staff.
“They were waving, smiling, blowing kisses,” Paniccia said.
“I think we’d like to do this again,” she said. “It makes a big impact.”