At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, senior living communities were among the most at-risk places in the country. Despite overcoming challenge after challenge, the pandemic has in some ways been of value. It’s provided an opportunity for senior living communities to more closely scrutinize and analyze their emergency preparedness protocols and general safety. It’s also proven once and for all that senior living communities are able to adapt the way they do things to protect their residents while also delivering engaging, fulfilling lifestyles. In fact, the increased emphasis on senior living safety throughout the past year has allowed the majority of communities to make sustainable changes for overall better safety in the long-term. These changes have been folded into daily operations of communities and cemented their place in the “new normal.”
In response to COVID-19, senior living communities have significantly increased cleaning protocols to include deep cleaning sanitization. New protocols place a larger focus on heavily trafficked areas of the community such as entry points, common spaces, and dining spaces, and high-touch surfaces like door handles, communal electronics and furniture. Many communities have implemented more advanced technological solutions. Infection prevention and control (IPC) programs that focus on disinfecting and regularly sanitizing both shared and private spaces in communities. Some have installed systems that produce high-grade disinfectant right on-site, while others have installed campus-wide air purification systems that continuously filter harmful particulates and help reduce infections of COVID-19 and many other viruses. Looking to the future, disinfectant and purification systems will be standard at senior living communities far beyond the end of the pandemic.
Testing both community residents and team members is a vital component of senior living safety. A top concern for retirement communities across the country has been to minimize the risk of team members potentially introducing COVID-19 to the resident population. To limit infection, communities conduct frequent testing for all employees working in the community. Some have even done surface testing throughout the community in which various high-touch surfaces are tested for the virus and implemented contact tracing testing. At minimum, team members are usually given a temperature test each time they enter the community. Many communities have adopted weekly testing protocol for all team members.
The frequency of testing varies between nursing homes and other long-term care facilities to continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs) with independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing care. The number of residents in each level of care plays a key role in when and how residents are tested. While independent living residents may get tested semi-frequently (about once a month) or at the first sign of symptoms, memory care or skilled nursing residents with preexisting health conditions are likely tested more frequently (about once weekly).
Senior living safety guidelines recommend a minimum two-week quarantine for new residents entering the community. While this can be difficult for new residents familiarizing themselves with their new home, it’s been highly successful for public health. Even before the pandemic, many communities offered full health screenings to new residents to get a baseline health record. Now, frequent health screenings are widely adopted practice throughout the senior living industry. Preventative quarantine and health screenings are just a couple examples of how senior living communities are adapting onboarding practices and expanding preventative safety measures.
The pandemic has given senior living communities an opportunity to revisit their emergency preparedness protocols and specifically their inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE). A key part of effective COVID-19 response was acquiring and distributing proper PPE like face masks, sanitizer, and sanitization equipment. Now, the need for a well-stocked supply has been made clearer than ever.
One of the most impactful changes to senior living communities has been an enhanced focus on resident wellness. Between social distancing, lockdowns and quarantines, many seniors have felt the impact of isolation. This is where senior living communities have a distinct advantage. Older adults in communities have experienced firsthand how the benefits of living in a community environment with other seniors are vitally important during times of crisis. Nearly all communities have limited visitations from friends and family during the pandemic. Thankfully, they’ve also helped residents safely stay connected with loved ones digitally.
Communities have shifted more resources to providing mental and emotional support to residents during this time. More frequent wellness check-ins, health screenings, and mental health counseling has become a significant part of the new normal. Communities with full activity and social schedules had shifted to offering virtual experiences like video chat happy hours and online engagement opportunities such as virtual book clubs. While residents are generally excited to return to in-person socialization, the fact that senior living communities have been able to shift their activities to be safely enjoyed speaks to the resilience and adaptiveness of senior living communities.
Senior Living Beyond COVID-19
As an industry, senior living is more dedicated than ever to upgrading resident experience and continuing to enhance senior living safety. Senior living communities remain the safest, most fulfilling option for aging adults in the United Sates. Finding the right community for you or your loved one has never been easier with the wide variety of resources and guidance available today. Just be sure to ask every community you consider what they’re doing to keep residents happy, healthy and connected. You’re sure to hear answers that satisfy.