Separated by pandemic, Clovis nursing home resident and family want to reunite via Alexa

CLOVIS, Calif. (KFSN) -- Sara Hawkins wants to make every moment spent with her grandmother, 85-year-old Maxine Buddle, count.

Because of the pandemic, the amount of time they've recently spent together is few and far between.

Buddle suffers from advanced dementia and mobility issues.

She lives at the Willow Creek Health Care Center in Clovis.

The last time Hawkins saw her grandmother face to face was February.

"Those moments of seeing her grandchildren and her great-grandchildren are so precious and we want to maximize that," she said.

Like others, the family is only allowed two 30-minute video chat sessions a week.

Sometimes during those chats, her dementia prevents her from having a conversation.

So Hawkins and her family came up with a solution - to install an Amazon Echo Show device in her room so they could communicate more frequently.

"The advantage of the Echo is that my grandmother could do that more on her own, it is voice-activated," she said.

Hawkins said staff have been incredibly attentive and caring for her grandmother, but when it came to the Echo device she was met with opposition.

"In the beginning, they told us it was a HIPAA violation, for privacy issues," she said.

Since then, Hawkins' mother has sat out front of the facility for a few hours each day with this cardboard sign reading, "Alexa allows contact."

In a statement, Willow Creek Administrator Brett Hobbs said:

"At Willow Creek Healthcare Center the safety and well-being of our residents is our highest priority. We recognize the difficulties government-mandated restrictions on visitation during the COVID-19 pandemic present. We're working with residents and their families to facilitate visits by electronic means, whether via phone, FaceTime, Skype or otherwise, to make sure they are able to stay as close as possible to their loved ones during this difficult time. We have iPads and other devices that residents can use to communicate with their loved ones, and we ensure that all residents who want to use them have access. Residents and families are of course also welcome to purchase their own phones and other communications devices to keep in touch. That said, we also have to be mindful of HIPAA and other privacy rights of residents and others in the facility that can be impacted when devices can be controlled by people outside the facility. As a result, we are unable to allow remote-controlled devices, whether Echos or otherwise, to be placed in the facility. Any device used needs to be operated by the resident, and staff is happy to help them if they are unable to do it themselves. We welcome feedback from residents and families on how we can better serve them during this unprecedented time, and will do our best to help them stay in touch until regular visits are possible again."

"While it is a concern we feel that it could be worked around," said Hawkins.
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