Maria DeSimone Prascak hasn’t seen her mother since March 1.

Typically, she drops by Little Sisters of the Poor nursing home in Brighton Heights three times a week to visit 87-year-old Anne DeSimone, but the COVID-19 pandemic has put their get-togethers on hold.

Prascak is an artist who, for years, has taught painting classes at the facility. Now her only connection to the residents is via phone. She takes comfort in the fact that the on-site sisters are working hard to keep everyone safe and happy.

“It’s really difficult, but we don’t have a choice,” says Prascak, a South Side resident. “The main thing is to do whatever it takes to keep her healthy. That’s what I’ll do.”

Some care facilities, such as Vincentian Marian Manor in Green Tree, give residents a chance to do video chats with their families. They’re also asking the general public to help cheer up their residents during quarantine.

Before the outbreak, artist Maria DeSimone Prascak and her mother, Anna DeSimone, enjoyed painting at Little Sisters of the Poor. Photo courtesy of Maria DeSimone Prascak.

Community Manager Aimi Long says while Vincentian cannot accept tangible items such as cards or gifts, emails with photos and words of encouragement are welcome. The messages are televised on Vincentian’s in-house channel. Emails can be sent here with the subject line “well wishes.”

Before the health crisis, residents at ManorCare Health Services, a 165-bed facility in Whitehall, stayed busy seven days a week with bingo, games, religious services and cognitive trivia. Now, in accordance with social distance guidelines, Activities Director Alison Davin is spending time with individuals in their rooms.

She also launched a virtual pen pal program on March 16. The general public can send emails here. In one week, Davin received 275 messages from across the country and some from as far away as Finland and Spain.

Residents enjoy seeing pictures of people’s pets and children’s artwork. One person read Celtic stories to entertain residents, a church group offered online Bible study and members of a local high school drama club volunteered to sing numbers from their upcoming musical.

The messages can be broadcast in each room.

“They’re enjoying the pen pal program a lot,” Davin says. “We’re going to try to keep this going even after the crisis is over.”

Kristy Locklin

Kristy Locklin is a North Hills-based writer. When she's not busy reporting, she enjoys watching horror movies and exploring Pittsburgh's craft beer scene.