Crosby nursing home caroling a hit with residents despite social distancing

Research has shown that for older adults, “staying engaged in enjoyable activities is associated with better physical and mental health,” according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

CRMC nursing home 1.jpg
Velma Rohwer, a resident of Cuyuna Regional Medical Center's Care Center in Crosby, waives to 4-year-old Paisley Anderson, daughter of Lifespring Church Pastor Eric Anderson, as their large family sings hymns Sunday, March 22, to the nursing home resident while social distancing. Submitted photo / Cuyuna Regional Medical Center

When “getting too close for comfort” takes on a whole new meaning with today’s coronavirus, Crosby nursing home residents welcomed two families with open arms, figuratively speaking.

The families of Crosby’s Lifespring Church Pastor Eric Anderson and Crosslake’s Providence Community Church Pastor Ken Carlton recently sang hymns for them from outside the facility.

“It was the best day of my life,” said Judy Barrows, an 81-year-old who has lived at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center’s Care Center for six months.

Anderson has nine children and Carlton has eight children. Their families went caroling March 22 from window to window at the long-term care facility while maintaining social distancing.

“I talked to a doctor and said, ‘Is there anything I can do to serve the residents?’ She said, ‘Not only can we not have a chapel service here, but they can’t leave their rooms,’” Anderson said.


Anderson then hatched a plan to remain outside the facility with his children while caroling with the Carlton family for about an hour to entertain and inspire the residents watching.

“They can sing those songs without even looking at the book,” Barrows said by phone Thursday. “The little kids look in the window to see what they can see and wave at you, and it just makes your day. They’ll put a smile on your face.”

Fellowship and fun

Anderson said the focus was singing gospel hymns during his March 22 trip with the Carlton family, and the March 29 visit without, to the Care Center.

“We really tried to sing gospel hymns that focus on the hope that we have in Jesus Christ,

the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf,” Anderson said of his family’s group outing March 22 with the Carlton family before Gov. Tim Walz issued a stay-at-home order.

Carlton said, “There is a certain identity to the people of God through the ages that involves a communal aspect like going to church … those who share in the experience of salvation from their sins through the blood of Jesus Christ.”

Lifespring Church Pastor Eric Anderson (left) and his children, and Providence Community Church Pastor Ken Carlton and his children, go window to window at Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Care Center caroling hymns Sunday, March 22, to entertain, inspire and share fellowship with the Crosby nursing home residents while social distancing outside. Submitted photo / Eric Anderson


Churches closed after Walz issued last month a stay-at-home order for Minnesotans that expires 5 p.m. Friday, April 10, to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But Barrows has been able to visit with at least one of her relatives who resides at the same Crosby nursing home.

“When you’re in here all day long, there’s not a lot of things to do,” Barrows said with federal health officials recommending people stay at least 6 feet away from each other as a precaution.

Older adults and those with severe underlying medical conditions such as heart or lung disease, or diabetes seem to be at higher risk for developing serious complications from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We are following social distancing. We aren’t currently doing any group activities. All of our activities are based off of one to one and, like, in-room activities, so a lot of our residents were greatly missing church services,” Care Center Activities Supervisor Mary Dehning said.

Research has shown for older adults, “staying engaged in enjoyable activities is associated with better physical and mental health,” according to the CDC.

“The residents love it, and it’s nice for them to have something to look forward to because they’re doing it at the same time there would usually be a church service, so they get some religious joy out of it,” Dehning said of the caroling.

Carlton said, “The gathering of the people of God in that corporate setting is something that brings a certain joy and fellowship, so that what we share together encourages one another. And one person’s experience in their faith can really be something that helps another person.”

Paul Chase is an 89-year-old resident of the Care Center, which in more typical times attempts to provide different opportunities for the residents such as outings, educational and enrichment classes, religious services and music, arts, crafts, games and wellness classes.


Crosslake’s Providence Community Church Pastor Ken Carlton gives instructions to his large brood as the group sang hymns Sunday, March 22, outside of Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Care Center in Crosby for the nursing home residents. Submitted photo / Eric Anderson

“I’ve been better. I’ve got a motorized chair,” Chase said of being cooped up with earlier orders by Walz closing bars, restaurants and areas of public amusement. “But I enjoyed seeing the kids. I think I got to sing with them — although, with a window in between, that’s a little hard.”

Lifespring Church on Hallett Avenue Northeast offers a church service about every seven weeks at the nursing home on the nearby campus of Cuyuna Regional Medical Center.

“They really don’t care if I’m there, they want my kids to be there — the older people,” Anderson said of his brood.

Chase said of the planned visits, “The kids — I certainly could see their mouths and knew what they were singing, and so I enjoyed it very much. They can come anytime.”

Nursing home hymns

Anderson said relatives of the nursing home residents have expressed their appreciation on Facebook of the novel way his family and the Carltons reached out to their relatives socially.

“One of the residents tried to escape out the door and come see us … and another lady tried to open her window, so she could give my kids candy,” Anderson said.


Dehning said, “Really, this is their home and we want them to have as much joy and experience as many happy things as they can. And we do have these limitations on what we’re available to do because of, you know, policy and precautions (because of the coronavirus).”

The CRMC Care Center is licensed for 85 beds and provides 24-hour care for those that need long-term care as well as those requiring transitional short-term care, such as rehabilitation and recovery after surgery.

Crosslake’s Providence Community Church Pastor Ken Carlton towers above his family Sunday, March 22, while the group went from window to window outside Cuyuna Regional Medical Center Care Center in Crosby caroling hymns to the nursing home residents who were isolated from visitors as a precaution because of coronavirus concerns. Submitted photo / Eric Anderson

“The residents were so appreciative that they wanted to have an Easter egg hunt for my kids,” Anderson said. “And so on Easter afternoon, they’re going to hide Easter eggs — after they’ve sanitized them — outside the residents’ windows, so my little kids can come hunt for them and the residents can watch through their windows.”

He said it remains to be decided whether the Anderson family window-side caroling becomes a regular event or was a brief experiment in staying in touch without the physical risk of touching.

“This was really good for my children, too,” Anderson said of the hymn-singing visits. “Both times we went last month, I really didn’t give them an option — just said, ‘We’re doing it.’”

Some of his children changed their minds about visiting the nursing home — or at least had a change of heart — Anderson said.


“The second time we went, especially as we started, my 13-year-old daughter said, ‘I didn’t want to come but I’m glad we did that,’ and then at the end, my kids were saying we should do this every week — even if this coronavirus thing is over,” Anderson said.

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at . Follow him on Twitter at .

I cover the community of Wadena, Minn., and write mostly features stories for the Wadena Pioneer Journal. The newspaper is owned by Forum Communications Co.
What To Read Next
Get Local