Sanford Health and the Good Samaritan take pride in caring for the entire person — not only looking after the physical health of its patients and residents, but the mental health as well.

During the coronavirus pandemic, that has been challenging. Especially for the residents in long term care centers.

To mitigate COVID-19 infection spread, the Good Samaritan stopped allowing visitors. This means many residents haven’t seen their families or loved ones in person for a long, long time.

All of these things taken into account has forced employees and community members to be more creative in supporting the mental well-being of its residents, and neighbors.

The small city of Windom, Minnesota, has showed their big heart in a unique way.

Connection with local equestrians

Since 2008, Sanford Health has partnered with Reinbows, a non-profit in Windom that specializes in equestrian therapy, pairing horses with kids, adults and seniors to “bring them joy and happiness,” according to administrative director Damon Weinandt.

As Reinbows was first developing, Sanford Health helped to sponsor both the outdoor and indoor arenas the non-profit uses.

“The outdoor arena is something we use every day. With the weather here in Minnesota, without the indoor arena, we’d probably have to cancel half the things we do with the horses,” Damon says.

Since then, Sanford Health has supported Reinbows through grants, helping the organization to staff more, and serve more members of the Windom community, says Sanford Health senior community relations specialist Karlie Solum.

“We support organizations that build a sense of community, and Windom rallies around Reinbows, for many different reasons. They work with children, seniors, and people with disabilities. It’s a great program,” she says.

Related: Father and son connect at Good Samaritan Sioux Falls Village

Before the pandemic, Reinbows would walk several horses over to Good Samaritan – Windom every week. There, residents would engage in fellowship with one another, and the equines. Because COVID-19 has limited interaction for residents, Damon knew continuing equine visits was needed.

“We wanted to make them smile,” he says.

So, the visits are still happening. They just look a tad different.

Parade of horses

Dressed in patriotic red, white and blue attire, the horses trotted around each building on the Windom campus. Some residents gazed at and petted the horses from behind a window, while others were able to be directly in their presence.

It might sound small, but in a time as heavy as this, even the smallest displays of kindness make a world of difference.

“We love to hear the stories that they have with horses when they were younger. Just to show that self worth. The residents still have something to give back, and someone to talk to. With all this going on, the loneliness is a big factor. Depression’s real. So, just by bringing over horses and walking around campus, they bring a smile to your face,” says Damon.

And, in a time where there might not be many cherished memories made, this allows residents to relive those memories they hold dear.

“It’s great to come over here and hear stories that trigger memories of happier times. We hear the stories of using them for farming. I just heard a story about riding them; they’re going to get the mail a mile and then the horse wouldn’t go back with them. So, they had to get off the horse and lead them.

“I mean, it’s amazing. The smiles, and you hear those stories, you’re just interacting. You’re hearing stories, you’re communicating, which is so important right now,” says Damon.