HARTLEY—It was a zoo at Community Memorial Health Center in Hartley on Wednesday, May 12, but in a good way.

Students from Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn High School’s FFA chapter brought in a menagerie of animals to brighten the day of residents at the long-term care facility as part of National Skilled Nursing Care Week.

“It was a wonderful opportunity to be able to get into the nursing home to visit with the residents, especially since many of the residents have been put on lockdown for the past year,” said FFA adviser Michele Wagner.

The residents were able to pet a yellow Labrador, lambs, a goat, a rabbit and several baby chickens. Sophomore Joe Billings also brought along a cow, which residents could see outside through the gathering room’s windows.

The FFA petting zoo was just one of several activities held at the center this week to highlight the work of skilled nursing care. Each weekday, the facility put on seasonally themed activities for staff and residents to enjoy.

Monday, May 10, was “Spring Fling,” during which residents decorated sugar cookies and paper sacks, out of which they also enjoyed sack lunches. They also potted geraniums which had been donated to the center.

Tuesday’s theme on May 11 was “Hawaiian Luau,” which involved grilling out for a picnic-style lunch and decorating the building with Hawaiian decor. Students from Hartley-Melvin-Sanborn Elementary also came to draw sidewalk chalk outside the building for residents to view. Games such as Hula-Hoop contests took place that afternoon.

Besides the petting zoo, Wednesday’s “Summer County Fair Day” also involved carnival games, decorations, clown costumes worn by staff and a spectacle where residents could throw pies into staff members’ faces.

An “Oktoberfest” theme dominated Thursday, May 13, and involved German foods being served and a dog parade featuring Dachshunds and other canine breeds.

The week wrapped up Friday, May 14, with a “Winter Carnival” that included a lunch of chili and cinnamon rolls, Christmas decorations, as well as a Nerf gun “Hunt the Snowman” contest and a fake snowball fight.

Administrator Janette Simon said the week wound up being much different from that of last year due to the coronavirus pandemic. At this point last May, residents mainly stuck to their rooms to avoid potential spread of the virus.

“It was really hard to do anything collectively fun because we were still all sequestered,” Simon said. “With some of the loosening of the protocols and spring and the sunshine and so on, all of our spirits are lifted and people are just ready to socialize and to have fun and to be silly.”

She said a high percentage of the staff and residents at the center have received the COVID-19 vaccine, which has allowed the facility to slightly modify the mitigation measures in place for the pandemic.

For instance, Community Memorial Health has been able to allow in-room visits from residents’ loved ones. Visitors must schedule their arrival in advance and are screened upon entering the facility.

If a visitor and a resident are fully vaccinated, they are able to be in the resident’s room without wearing masks. If visitors are not fully vaccinated, they must wear a mask while in the room.

Visits only take place if residents are comfortable with them.

“Some are still a little leery not fully knowing the effectiveness rate, and so we just abide by their wishes and what they feel comfortable doing,” Simon said.

All staff members continue to wear masks while working, and staff who are not fully vaccinated don face shields in addition to their mask. They likewise are screened for COVID-19 symptoms at the door and are tested for the virus once a week.

Simon said she and the staff were glad to have had their spirits lifted this week with the fun activities. She also spoke of how glad she and everyone else at the center were to have made it through 2020.

“We feel very fortunate to have that year behind us and to be optimistic about the future.”