CHICAGO, IL - The senior living industry including independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care communities, is serving an important role as the country battles the COVID-19 virus. It is estimated that nearly two million seniors across the country call their senior living communities home. Every day, staff members are preparing food, cleaning and disinfecting apartment units and common areas, keeping residents engaged with activities and assisting with personal care needs. Although the daily routine in the communities has changed quite a bit since the virus took hold, residents and their families have been overwhelmingly supportive of the frontline staff who are providing these necessary services.
Comments from thankful residents and their family members often reflect the same sentiment, "Management is always watching out for us especially now with the virus going around...they have made me feel very comfortable...like this is my home." A resident's daughter commented, "The management is fantastic. The way they have handled this whole COVID-19 thing, they have been great." All in all, the communities exude a "we're all in this together" attitude that keeps spirits high.
To keep residents safe and virus free, visitors have not been allowed in most communities for the last few weeks, but the staff has set up computer stations so residents can video chat with their loved ones. Activities that used to be held in large communal settings have been altered to cater to smaller groups with appropriate social distancing. Apartment doorway exercise classes have gained a solid following and everyone gets meals delivered by room service.
Another benefit of keeping residents safe and virus free is to help reduce stress on emergency responders and local hospital systems. Community leadership and staff know their services are helping and take pride in the role they are playing. Stories abound about the extraordinary dedication of senior living staff members going above and beyond to care for their residents.
While reports of outbreaks of the virus in nursing homes and assisted living communities make for spectacular news stories, there are a number of factors to consider in response. First, the resident population of the broad range of senior living options can be distinguished from nursing homes. Nursing homes ordinarily serve residents with pre-existing medical needs where senior living communities by and large are focused on social determinants of health such as nutrition, social engagement and overall wellness. Assisted living communities also address residents who need assistance with activities of daily living (ADLs) including bathing, dressing and medication management.
The industry acknowledges that senior living residents are vulnerable to the virus but notes that residents who desire the supportive residential living environment provided in senior living communities, benefit from the services that are offered. Meals, wellness checks and assistance with ADLs cannot be overlooked when assessing the value of seniors communities and the positive impact on residents' sense of wellness.
This sense is illustrated by the engagement of resident groups who have found ways to help their outside communities and to connect with families. One group dubbed themselves the "Masketeers" and have been sewing face masks to give to all who need them. Resident families have decorated outdoor areas with colorful balloons and provided heart warming messages with sidewalk chalk on parking lots. In return, many residents have responded with window art of their own to show their love. Many senior communities are adorned with signs that read "Heroes Work Here" expressing gratitude for the hard work and dedication of the staff who keep operations humming. "I don't know if there is a better place we could have gone to, especially with all that is going on," commented one resident's sister.
To be sure, there are new challenges. Staff members are screened for symptoms and contacts with potentially infected individuals at the beginning of each shift and senior living operators have been making the case to elevate the priority of testing for staff and residents alike. Residents who exhibit symptoms are tested for the virus and quarantined or isolated as appropriate. The presence of personal protective equipment can result in a more clinical environment than normal and communities are on the constant lookout for fresh supplies. But, life goes on with a commitment to getting through these extraordinary times and returning to the comfortable "at home" routine of community life as soon as possible.