Nursing home uses Skype to bring families together

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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- Residents at Williamstown Commons will soon be able to see and talk to family members living across the country and around the world.

The nursing and rehabilitation center has begun using Skype -- a computer program allowing people to talk to each other for free over the Internet using video -- to hold meetings between residents, family members and nursing home staff. "It's pretty exciting but a little mind boggling," Janice Paquette, activity director at Williamstown Commons, said Tuesday.

She said a notebook computer with a Web camera was purchased through the resident council, and the nursing home had to set up a Skype account before it could begin offering the program. Mary Ann DiLego, 71, of Adams was the first resident at Williamstown Commons to use Skype, communicating with her daughter, Beth, in Sausalito, Calif. "It has been wonderful," DiLego said Wednesday. "It helps to see her and talk to her."

Pat Crossman, sub-acute nurse manager at Williamstown Commons, said DiLego came to them as a trauma patient having sustained multiple injuries in a car accident in December. DiLego's daughter spent several weeks in the area to be with her mother but eventually had to return to California.

Crossman said the support DiLego provided to her mother was important to her recovery, and having Skype has allowed that support to continue. "We try to meet so many needs of our patients, and this can help us in meeting the emotional and psychological needs," she said. Beth DiLego said being able to see and talk to her mother has been amazing. "We surprised her the first time. They put the laptop on a table in the dining room, and she walked across the room toward it. She didn't know I was there until she sat down at the table in front of it," she said.

Crossman first got the idea to bring Skype into Williamstown Commons from seeing her grandchildren use it. "I thought, if they can use it to talk to family, why not have my residents use it?" she said. While some residents will be able to see family members with the notebook computer screen, the computer will be hooked up to a big screen television so those who are visually impaired can see their families, she said.

Once they get the program fully up and running and the kinks worked out, Paquette said, they hope to set up a schedule by which residents can communicate with their families who don't live in the area.

They had hoped to have residents using Skype by Mother's Day weekend, but are now shooting for Memorial Day weekend, she said. One family living in Alaska is very interested in getting on board with Skype, and letters will be sent out to other families telling them to contact the nursing home if they're interested, Paquette said. "The sky is the limit," she said.

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