The ACTIVITIES DIRECTOR
BY ELLEN GILLETTE
Residents at Port St. Lucie Rehabilitation and Healthcare, a skilled nursing facility, have enjoyed a social calendar that includes parties, cooking and crafts, games, animals, chair exercises and more. Faland Jeanty, the center’s activities director, has always based the wide variety of programs on the needs of those under her care.
“We have dementia, end-of-life care and therapy patients,” she explains. “We want to put smiles on their faces.”
Because she and her team are so socially involved from day to day, she says they can act as the eyes and ears of the nurses.
“When we see something is off, we speak up,” she says. “A lot of times we can catch something early.”
And then ... the pandemic hit.
“Our residents were already restricted due to disabilities or dementia,” Jeanty says. “Now they’re even more confined.”
In addition to being activities director, Jeanty is a recreational therapist.
“It’s cool, to have fun and help someone at the same time.”
A stroke victim with sequencing issues, for example, might have enjoyed cooking.
“I can take a simple recipe and ask what steps are involved,” she says.
Activities ideally address not only social needs, but also those involving physical, emotional and mental health.
Because of the pandemic, she and her team have had to change things, working in smaller settings. Group activities transitioned to socially distanced hallway or single activities. Gone are the bell choir and the roomful of residents working on crafts, playing bingo or watching a travel show. Gone are sing-alongs with local performers. Even tougher has been the restriction on visitors. Jeanty believes the resulting rise in depression has been a factor in the increased numbers of physical decline and deaths, whether or not it is directly related to COVID-19.
“Coronavirus didn’t really hit us immediately,” she says. “Before, we were able to have patio visits. We had a drive-by parade with the Humane Society bringing animals and family members waving signs.”
But whereas she used to schedule things like fishing trips, bowling and lunches at restaurants, everything is now done in-house, at least for the time being.
During the summer, several residents tested positive and were moved to a COVID-specific hall, but everyone was affected with policy changes, personal protection equipment, sanitizing and screenings. Without visitors, the facility has tried to keep lines of communication open.
“The administration provides updates,” Jeanty says, “and family can call any time with questions. We also encourage video calls.”
Jeanty says the staff realizes the responsibility of leaving a facility on shutdown every day to go home to their own families.
“But I’ve always been a glass half-full girl,” she says. “I don’t let all the negative affect my mental state.”
Born in Haiti, Jeanty moved to the area as an infant.
“My mother’s mother died when she was young, leaving her the caregiver for 12 siblings,” Jeanty explains. “She wanted a better life. She couldn’t read or write or get a good job, but she always worked hard to provide, always did her best. I think I get my positive attitude from her.”
Active in soccer and softball at Fort Pierce Central, Jeanty planned to go into healthcare, but faced her own challenges. Two weeks before graduation, she gave birth to her daughter.
“I walked across the stage to get my diploma, though,” she says.
Persevering, with help from her parents, she earned an associate degree at Indian River State College. In Miami, she studied to become an occupational therapist, but migrated to recreational therapy.
“I love working with geriatric patients,” Jeanty says.
Not everyone is ready for assisted living or skilled nursing but she believes they could still benefit from recreational therapy. Her company, Recreation Rehabilitation Services LLC, provides in-home help in the evenings and on weekends. Eventually, she’d like to expand with additional employees and services.
Jeanty’s husband, Ruben, repairs boats, a physically tiring occupation. Jeanty’s mother helps with childcare, but it was up to Jeanty to make sure homework was done when schools shut down. Faeyana, 10, approached virtual schooling with optimism, but soon missed friends.
“It’s a difficult time to grow up,” Jeanty says. “Kids don’t always know how to communicate. I check in with her often.”
Perspective is everything, of course. COVID-19 hasn’t been the family’s biggest challenge. In 2015, Jeanty’s parents and daughter were in a fatal van crash while traveling between a church convention and home. Eight of the 18 on board died, including Jeanty’s father. Reality was devastating enough without the realization of other possibilities.
“I could’ve lost my father, mother, daughter and uncle all at once,” she says.
Jeanty was going to school and working at the time, but took family medical leave to care for her injured mother and daughter.
“They were fortunate,” she says, “but my mother still prays before every car trip, after every car trip, and during every car trip.”
Recently, Jeanty planned a Hawaii Week for the residents, complete with a socially distant luau, decorations and food – anything to keep smiles on those faces.
“Our oldest, at 102, is COVID-free. We’ve had patients beat it. They’ve been through so much. They know so much. I love working with them.”
Lives in: Port St. Lucie
Occupation: Activities Director/recreational therapist at Port St. Lucie Rehabilitation and Healthcare
Family: Husband, Ruben Thelusma; daughter, Faeyana
Education: Bachelor’s degree in recreational therapy from Florida International University in Miami
Hobbies: Shopping, reading
Who inspires me: “My mother, friends — hard-working people in general, who are living up to their potentials.”
Something most people don’t know about me: “I’ve always thought I would enjoy being a pilot.”