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Mike Barretta standing beside the hugging door he designed and built.

MANSFIELD — Dayspring Assisted Living & Care Facility in Mansfield is finding creative ways to combat the challenging effects of social isolation while keeping their community safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When Michelle Swank, the executive director of Dayspring, asked their maintenance man, Mike Barretta, to find a way for residents to hug their loved ones again, he got right to work designing a hugging door.

“I had seen a couple of pictures of different things, but they were outside for the most part,” Swank said. “I told Mike, ‘I want them to have something that they can use to hug. However you think it will work best in our facility, for our people, that’s what I want. I want it safe, I want a physical barrier, and go for it.’ And he did a wonderful job.”

Barretta initially looked for an existing design to draw from, but he found others had used shower curtains with slits for covered arms to reach through. “We couldn't have that because you still have an opening,” he said.

Instead of replicating what others had created before, Barretta designed a hugging door of his own—one with absolutely no openings.

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John, a resident, embraces his sister at the hugging door.

“I took a screen door and put heavy, crystal clear plastic on it—really heavy mil—then figured out how to make the arms go both ways because, you know, people are missing that touch at this time,” Barretta said.

Now that Barretta’s design is completed and installed, family and friends may call ahead to schedule a visit with residents at the hugging door. Appointments prevent visitor overlap.

During this challenging holiday season, Barretta believes his door will boost community morale. The hugging door has already brought several residents and their families together again in moments of joy.

“(A resident named) Judy stopped me this morning. ‘My sister came yesterday, and we used your hugging door,’” Barretta said. “She's been here quite a few years, and the last time her sister visited, I told her I was making it. So, it's good that she got to use it.”

Another resident Barretta spoke about has lived at Dayspring for years, and her husband used to visit her every single day before the pandemic. This door will give the couple an opportunity to safely embrace each other once again.

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Donna, a resident, offered to test out the hugging door with Dayspring's office manager.

Before this new project, Barretta worked on enclosing a porch for loved ones to visit residents through open windows with plexiglass dividers. He finished it off with a microphone and speaker system to aid with communication. “A couple of residents can't hear very well, so it works out great,” Barretta said.

Swank is thrilled with Barretta’s work and what it is doing for the Dayspring community. “He is using his knowledge of our building, of our residents, to tweak any idea that I have or another person has that will help us get through this COVID mess,” Swank said. 

“He has—all of my staff have—done a wonderful job of giving everything they’ve got to Dayspring and our people. Mike is just another example of Dayspring people shining through.”

Barretta’s careful work and creativity have kept residents and staff safe while alleviating some of the sorrow of being separated from loved ones this year.

“We have no COVID here at all, and we want to stay that way,” Barretta said. “We take extra precautions just like this, but we don't want to isolate people either, so this works out well.”


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