John and Mary Dugan share a tender moment, thanks to Phoebe Allentown’s hugging booth.

Residents of Phoebe Allentown Health Care Center — one of the Phoebe’s older adult communities in Pennsylvania — now can share safe hugs with loved ones during in-person visits, thanks to a creative idea developed by Kelly Bock, Phoebe Allentown’s director of environmental services.

After several months of quarantine to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, Phoebe Allentown began the stages of reopening on Monday, Aug. 20. The first offering includes outdoor, in-person visits, by reservation, to the center. But Bock had a bigger vision: a hugging booth.

“I wanted our residents to be able to touch the people they love … even if it’s through 10-gauge plastic,” says Bock, who altered a design she saw on social media.

Barbara Sechler hugs her grandson during a visit.

The hugging booth incorporates plastic barriers that ensure safety while, at the same time, giving residents the experience of physical contact. The structure, built by the environmental  services crew, is bigger and more adjustable than any other she found, using disposable veterinary gloves that cover both huggers’ hands and arms.

“You can actually feel the warmth of the hug” through the gloves, says Bock. Phoebe Allentown carefully disinfects the hugging booth after each use. The booth also utilizes disposable gloves, which helps to streamline the experience. Bock made the decision to use the disposable gloves because other examples she saw with permanent gloves didn’t offer the flexibility and weren’t as easily sanitized.

‘You can actually feel the warmth of the hug,’ says Phoebe Allentown’s Bock.

“It has been over five months since our residents had visits from their loved ones. We wanted to give them the opportunity to touch and hug [their loved ones], knowing that touch has so many benefits to the overall health and wellness of our seniors,” says Sue Schlener, executive director of Phoebe Allentown. “We know hugs can reduce stress and fear, creating a calming effect. We also know that it just plain feels good and makes you happier. We want our residents to have the best quality of life that we can provide.”

So far, the hugging booth is a success. As one resident commented after hugging family members, “This was a happy day! I am so happy I got to see my family. This was really a happy day for me!”

Phoebe will continue to follow step-by-step reopening processes put in place by the Pennsylvania State Department of Health in order to  protect both residents and employees. All of Phoebe’s campuses will incorporate Bock’s “hugging booth” into their reopening plans.