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Nursing Home Employee's Musical Talent Uplifts Residents

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Many nursing homes are not letting visitors in during the pandemic, which means they have to get creative to boost morale. In Marion, Ala., one nursing home employee turned to the power of music. From WBHM, Mary Scott Hodgin reports.

MARY SCOTT HODGIN, BYLINE: For as long as she can remember, Ashley Moore has loved to sing.

ASHLEY MOORE: (Singing) If it had not been...

Singing is just - it's in my blood. I've been doing it all my life.

HODGIN: Moore is a licensed practical nurse at Perry County Nursing Home. When she started working there about three years ago, Moore would occasionally hum a tune while walking the halls. A few residents started to notice, and they loved it.

MOORE: From then on, I sang because I didn't - you know, they're living in a nursing home. This is where they're going to be. I don't exactly know how they're feeling at the moment, but if I can do anything to brighten their day, I will.

HODGIN: She started singing during activities and church services. She'd even meet one on one with residents to sing their favorite songs.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOORE: (Singing) Thank you, Lord. I won't complain.

(CHEERING)

HODGIN: But earlier this year, that kind of thing became more difficult. Since March, the coronavirus has spread through thousands of nursing homes across the U.S., including the Perry County Nursing Home. People haven't been able to visit in person, and there haven't been as many group activities or group singing. Fannie Bates is 75 years old and says it's been a difficult time.

FANNIE BATES: These past few months been - I don't know. It's very lonesome because most people used to they family, you know, getting together and everything.

HODGIN: Ashley Moore says it's also been stressful for staff - the restrictions, the health risks. She says they can't interact with residents like they used to. But at the same time, residents need them even more.

MOORE: We were just trying to figure out ways to continue to try to keep some kind of normalcy in there.

HODGIN: Sharon Phillips is the administrator at Perry County Nursing Home. She says one idea was to use the intercom to deliver inspiring messages. But they needed a volunteer.

SHARON PHILLIPS: And Ashley said, I will. And she got on the pager and said a prayer and then started singing on her own.

HODGIN: In the middle of the hallway, in her purple scrubs, Ashley Moore belted gospel hymns throughout the facility.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOORE: (Singing) I am tired. I am weak. I am worn.

HODGIN: Moore says she's sung a lot over the years, but this time it was different.

MOORE: The reaction was nothing like I thought it would be. Everybody hears me singing. I didn't know that those words to that song meant so much to them. People were even crying.

HODGIN: She says one of those people was Fannie Bates. She's one of Moore's biggest fans. Bates says, for her, every song is spiritual, and she says you can hear that in Moore's voice.

BATES: She does a great job with singing and a great meaning to it. And I just love something like that.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MOORE: (Singing) Take my hand, precious Lord, and lead me on...

HODGIN: Bates says she also loves to sing. She says it makes her feel better, even when she's lonely.

For NPR News, I'm Mary Scott Hodgin.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHUCK LEAVELL'S "JUST BEFORE DAWN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.