Backyard Beauty: Seniors Get 1st Haircuts in Months at Vt. Care Facility

After such a long wait, the hairdressers’ scissors felt to some like magic wands, conjuring a bit of normalcy that’s been hard to come by lately

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A rehabilitation and skilled nursing facility in central Vermont got a small taste of normal life Friday, following months of operational changes designed to keep the residents safe from COVID-19.

“I’m glad to get this done today,” said Shirley Farnham, a long-term resident of Woodridge Rehabilitation and Nursing in Berlin, who was getting her hair cut Friday for the first time since before the pandemic.

Woodridge, which is related to Central Vermont Medical Center, took an early and aggressive stance to keep COVID-19 out of the facility. There have been zero cases of the disease at Woodridge, administrators told NECN and NBC/10 Boston Friday.

Around the nation, nursing homes and other care facilities catering to seniors and other vulnerable groups have seen staggering numbers of deaths from COVID-19.

Advocates for nursing homes are calling on the federal government to investigate its own program to distribute critically-needed personal protective equipment to facilities across the country.

Woodridge’s strict adherence to health safety policies have meant no visitors inside, no hugs to residents from kids or grandkids, no shopping trips or lunches out with their families, either -- and no appointments at the in-house salon since March.

“We have plenty of activities here and I really like it here,” Farnham said. “This is my home. But it gets very depressing, because it’s the same old same old.”

Friday’s opening of a backyard beauty shop allowed residents to finally get their hair cut again. The cuts were offered outside, with residents spread apart, and with stylists following safety measures like disinfecting equipment and wearing masks, gloves and scrubs.

“I look forward to coming and seeing them,” hairdresser Robin Danforth said of the seniors at Woodridge. “They bring smiles to your face, just as much as you’re doing for them.”

As COVID-19 deaths at nursing homes continue to accumulate at shocking rates, The New York Times spoke to a number of nursing home caregivers on their daily struggles, frustrations caring for high-risk patients.

Care providers pointed out some ladies from this older generation still love to get a weekly shampoo and hot curler set treatment, adding that most of the men prefer short and neat styles.

After such a long wait, the hairdressers’ scissors felt to some like magic wands, conjuring a bit of normalcy that’s been hard to come by lately.

“After their haircuts, I noticed a couple of my residents in there are just smiling and joking with each other, and it’s definitely an uplifter of not just their mood but their overall sense of wellbeing,” said Amanda Cantiello of Woodridge Rehabilitation and Nursing.

One after another, the transformations were striking, with care providers snapping photos to share with residents’ loved ones.

“A whole new Shirley,” Farnham said of her haircut.

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