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Sunny Hill offers Hut Heaven for in-person visits

Sunny Hill offers Hut Heaven for in-person visits

JOLIET – Raphael and Miriam Hersonsky were both visiting the Sea of Galilee when a reporter asked to interview them for an article about their tour.

At the time, they had never met. The reporter just plucked them from the group. “I swear by God,” Raphael Hersonsky said.

After being interviewed together, they decided to go to a movie. The rest, as the expression goes, is history.

Russian-born Raphael and Miriam lived in her native land. The couple immigrated to the United States from Israel, first to Chicago, then Bolingbrook and eventually came to call Joliet home.  They will celebrate their 61st wedding anniversary in November.

On a recent sunny day, the Hersonskys were in Hut Heaven, the 20 foot x 20 foot tent Sunny Hill Nursing Home of Will County rents so that residents can have in-person visitors. Visits are scheduled in 30-minute time slots Monday through Saturday. Up to 10 reservations will be accepted per day.

The tent is outfitted with two propane heaters that direct and radiate heat down onto visitors. Propane heaters are turned on 15 minutes before a visit. The facility also bought a blanket warmer, in which cozy blankets are heated to 106 degrees.

It was an idea born of pandemic restrictions.

“As a result of no indoor visitation, we were exploring additional options to accommodate ongoing visits with family members. We put the tent up in August or September,” said Sunny Hill Administrator Maggie McDowell. 

“Additionally, as the weather changed last fall and became cooler, we wanted to provide ongoing alternate options despite weather conditions. This seemed like an appropriate feasible option.”

At first, some residents were wary about visiting in the tent when it was cold, but were reassured once they saw the propane heaters and the warm blankets.

“Despite indoor visitation being permitted now, outdoor visitation is preferred. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services recommends outdoor visits because they generally pose a lower risk of transmission due to increased space and airflow. Therefore, they say, visits should be held outdoors whenever practicable,” McDowell said.

County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant isn’t surprised that McDowell and her staff came up with Hut Heaven.

“Maggie and her staff are devoted to the residents at Sunny Hill,” said Will County Executive Jennifer Bertino-Tarrant. “I am thrilled the Sunny Hill team has creatively worked out a plan for our residents to be together with their family and friends.”

A life size cutout of Bernie Sanders from the January presidential inauguration is connected to a tent pole. His big mittens and heavy coat are a reminder to bundle up when it’s cold, said McDowell.

Those using the tent also must wear face masks and complete the required hand hygiene.

Raphael Hersonsky is grateful for the staff’s ingenuity. Miriam has been at Sunny Hill for two years.

“The president should see this,” he insisted, as he enjoyed one of his frequent visits with his wife.

There is no rush to take the tent down. The rental costs are covered by Sunny Hill’s COVID-19 Cares Act Funds.

The tent will remain, McDowell said, “until there are no COVID-19 restrictions or as long as we assess that a need exists to provide ongoing options to our residents and families.”

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