‘Booze N’ Tattoos’ just one way Marengo nursing home keeps spirits high during pandemic

A Marengo nursing home is getting a lot of attention for how it’s keeping spirits high during the pandemic.
Published: Oct. 30, 2020 at 12:08 AM CDT
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MARENGO, Iowa (KCRG) - It took moving to Rose Haven Nursing Home in Marengo for Wayne Schwarting to get his first tattoo — and then his second.

Schwarting showed them off during a Zoom call Wednesday, flexing both of his biceps to reveal a small gun tattooed inside each arm.

“Gotta have fun once in a while!” he said.

Schwarting inked up last week during Rose Haven’s “Booze N' Tattoos” event, in which masked staff applied temporary tattoos and handed out drinks, of both the alcoholic and non-alcoholic varieties, to socially-distanced residents.

“When I said, ‘Hey, do you want to come and get a tattoo?’ I got some surprised reactions,” said Kensey Gehring, Rose Haven’s activities director. “And I said, ‘Well, it’s just temporary. It’ll go away after a while.’ And then they were a lot more willing to come out and try it.”

Resident Karen Von-Lienen got a tattoo as well, a rose — her favorite flower — on her left hand, much of which had peeled off a week after “Booze N' Tattoos."

“My rose on my hand here looks pretty sad,” she said.

What Von-Lienen didn’t show during the Zoom call with TV9 was her other tattoo, a second rose place just below her collarbone.

But photos posted on the Rose Haven Facebook page capture Von-Lienen’s spirited laugh as she pulled down the collar of her pink shirt to unveil the tattooed flower shortly after it was applied.

“The smiles on their face — you can’t replace a feeling like that,” Gehring said.

Those smiles have seemingly struck a chord with thousands of people on the internet: Rose Haven’s Oct. 20 Facebook post with the “Booze N' Tattoos” photos had been shared more than 107,000 times by Thursday.

“It gives me chills because it’s just so heartwarming to know that our fun and enjoyment has touched the lives of so many people and is inspiring other facilities as well to do this activity,” Gehring said.

“Booze N' Tattoos” is just one of the most recent activities Rose Haven has put on over the last few months.

In early October, the nursing home named a homecoming king and queen, in the spirit of nearby Iowa Valley High School’s homecoming the same weekend, and other residents donned tiger ears and draped orange-and-black garland over their shoulders in photos to show their support.

A few months ago, staff brought a “rolling photo booth” from room to room, allowing residents to dress up with their pick of accessories — fluorescent feather boas and equally colorful sunglasses seemed to be the most popular choices — and pose while holding up peace signs, thumbs up, and even sticking out their tongues.

“We have been in our rooms quite a bit because of the pandemic, so we were trying to think of things we could take to the residents and create a really fun time and make smiles,” Gehring said.

Rose Haven’s staff said they just want to keep spirits up, especially at a time when residents might be feeling lonely.

COVID visitor restrictions began in March, when people weren’t allowed inside long-term care facilities across Iowa to see their loved ones, and eased up at Rose Haven in July, when the nursing home started to offer outside visits.

But as the weather has cooled down, opportunities for outdoor visits have become limited, and Rose Haven’s ability to allow visitors inside the building hinges on Iowa County’s COVID positivity rate.

While compassionate care visits are currently allowed, other visitors aren’t at this point.

“We can’t replace that love and connection with their family and those memories that they have with their family, but we can supplement it and do our best to make sure that their mental health and emotional wellbeing is positive while they’re here,” Gehring said.

“It just brings you back to why you’d be getting into this profession as we did. It’s because it’s to see their smiles and their laughter,” said Jalissa Winn, Rose Haven’s administrator.

As photos posted from “Booze N' Tattoos,” the rolling photo booth, and Rose Haven’s recent pumpkin decorating event prove, Von-Lienen has plenty of those smiles and laughter to share.

She said she’s participating in the nursing home’s activities because, in her own words, she doesn’t want to be “a bump on a log.”

“I made up my mind: I’m gonna have fun for whatever time I have left," Von-Lienen said.

As for Schwarting, he had another incentive for getting his two tattoos.

“She says you can’t have a drink if you don’t have a tattoo. ‘OK, I’ll have two tattoos!’” he said with a thumbs up and a laugh. “I got two tattoos, and I got a drink! How about that?”

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