A resident at Suites at Rio Vista visits with a family member via video conferencing. Courtesy photo.

Local nursing facility residents can see loved ones even while visitors are forbidden during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The New Mexico Health Care Association nonprofit trade group and the New Mexico Aging and Long-Term Services Department ombudsman program have together given 425 video-capable computer tablets to skilled nursing facilities around the state, including several in Rio Rancho, according to the NMHCA and the department.

The shared tablets will allow residents to video chat with family and friends who can’t visit in person.

To protect senior citizens, one of the groups most at risk of complications from COVID-19, nursing facilities have prohibited visitors except to residents at the very end of their lives and have restricted communal activities in the homes, as per guidelines from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Suites at Rio Vista in Rio Rancho received two tablets from NMHCA.

“It’s been wonderful,” said facility administrator Rayna Fagus, glad to see smiles on residents’ faces during the video chats.

“They’re very happy to be able to see their families,” she said. “Their families are very happy to be able to see them.”

The facility activity director asks residents if they want to use the tablets for video conferencing with families. If a resident does, the activity director contacts the family to schedule the virtual get-together.

Fagus said about 10 residents out of 76 had used the tablets so far.

Some residents, a couple of the certified nursing assistants and the activity director had already used their own phones or computers they could access for video conferences between residents and families, she said. The tablets have made those efforts easier.

“It’s huge,” Fagus said. “They’re so nice.”

In the City of Vision, The Neighborhood in Rio Rancho, Genesis Rio Rancho Center, the three Casa de Paz homes, and Morning Star Assisted Living and Memory Care also received tablets, according to the donating entities.

“Staying in touch with family and friends by virtual means is one of the most important things we can do to get us through this difficult and uncertain time,” said NMHCA Executive Director Vicente Vargas. “These tablets will help facilitate video communication between facility residents and their loved ones while staff continues to focus on the health and care of each individual.”

NMHCA spokeswoman Lily Quezada said device distribution started March 26.

She said the association is seeking grant funding to provide more tablets, but the 75 it already bought cost more than $20,000.

“NMHCA’s board of directors approved this one-time expense from the operating budget when it saw the need,” Quezada said.

Aging and Long-Term Services spokeswoman Breanna Anderson said the department spent about $40,200 for the tablets it provided, plus $15,800 for Verizon service to them.

“We are all in this together and must support one another, which is particularly true for those who may feel disconnected,” said Aging and Long-Term Services Cabinet Secretary Katrina Hotrum-Lopez. “I encourage everyone to check in with their elderly friends and family members to ensure they are receiving the care they require, as well as helping them overcome loneliness that can be the natural result of limited person-to-person interactions.”