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Long-term care facility ‘Hug Wall’ allows families to embrace loved ones for first time in months

VENICE, Fla. — Since the COVID-19 shutdown, residents in nursing homes and assisted living facilities have not been able to embrace family members.

For months, Jeanne Kleeberg has been visiting her father Gino Bartolucci through a glass window at Tuscan Gardens at Venetia Bay Senior Living in Venice.

Usually, his wife of 70 years is sitting next to him but she passed away in June.

“You think you hear her in the next room, but she’s really not there,” said Bartolucci.

Because of COVID-19 restrictions he hasn’t been able to hug his daughter since March.

And the same goes for many others.

“It’s been hard,” said Barbara Kelly.

Barbara and Richard Kelly have been married for 57 years. She lives in the assisted living side of Tuscan Gardens and Richard is in the memory care wing.

This is the longest they’ve gone without holding each other since the 1960s.

“To really hug him, it’s been a long time,” said Barbara.

Tuscan Gardens staff saw families struggling with this.

“Our residents have not been able to have that touch and feel from their family members, and though we’ll touch them and love on them, it’s not the same,” said Lisa Capasso, Tuscan Gardens of Venetia Bay director of community relations.

So they created two “Hug Walls” with gloves and a barrier that’s cleaned after each visit.

Family members put on long disposable gloves and then stick their arms through holes in the clear plastic barrier to embrace each other.

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For the first time in months, Richard was able to hold Barbara.

“This is what we need, a hug,” said Barbara.

And Jeanne got to hug her father for the first time since her mother’s passing.

“It was emotional,” said Jeanne.

“They have been magical for our families and our residents. They’re so happy when they can see their kids. They usually sit and talk at the window but when they can embrace them and love them, it’s emotional for all of us,” said Capasso.

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