As many businesses adopt their new normal of operations and existence during the COVID-19 pandemic, senior living was one of the first industries to be hit hard. With that in mind, communities across the country have attempted to make life safer while still allowing senior adults to enjoy their golden years.
According to Chris Christian, president and COO of Wexner Heritage Village in Columbus, and Eileen Duggan, regional director of operations at Maplewood Senior Living, which has locations throughout Ohio, their respective communities have made changes in many areas – from activities to health care and more.
“Overall, the pandemic has changed the way senior living communities think about their programming and activities for their residents and how to execute these activities to maintain a robust, healthy lifestyle as well as safe social distancing,” Duggan said.
She added Maplewood has always had a “strong protection and infection control policy, and this is what gave us the ability to keep our positive cases in our communities tremendously low. The pandemic proves just how important these policies are and going forward, the industry will continue to be aggressive in protections procedures.”
But it hasn’t been all stress all the time, Duggan said. The pandemic has also significantly increased regular communication with loved ones as well as internal communications at Maplewood, she added.
“The situation with COVID-19 requires proactive decision making daily, and it is important for us to make sure that residents, associates and families are aware of our efforts to make sure Maplewood Senior Living was doing everything in our efforts to keep the communities safe and healthy,” she explained. “Our increased protocols and proactive efforts resulted in incredibly low numbers of positive cases within our communities.”
At Wexner Heritage Village, staff has also quickly implemented FaceTime and Zoom as a means to communicate outside of the community, as well as improved use of telehealth. Also, Wexner Heritage Village created a separate “surge space” on their campus for clients who test positive for COVID-19, keeping them away from the general population, Christian said.
“This will allow us to care for folks who happen to be COVID-19 positive outside of the four walls of our facility, which for obvious reasons would keep those populations separate and reduce the risk of transmission and allow that team to really focus on the recovery of those patients in a safe environment,” he explained.
Christian also touched on some of the positives to come out of the pandemic, like increased development of outdoor activities and living spaces.
“Though we look forward to a day where connectivity can continue in person, I think for the foreseeable future for all providers there will be a focus on strategic development and a larger investment in outdoor activities and living spaces to accommodate family visitation gain a safe way,” Christian said. “There’s a lot of changes in terms of the future of the industry, and I think that at the front of every conversation will be design and development.”
Christian added the pandemic has also led to a refocusing on community security.
“You now know who is in your facility, and everyone inside the facility has entered in a streamlined, appropriate way,” he said.
As for Duggan, she said the pandemic has also shined a light on one of the pillars of healthy aging – community and the need for friendly interactions.
“We think that social distancing and stay-at-home orders increased people’s awareness of the necessity of human interaction and social lifestyles,” she stated. “There is a need to belong to a community.”
Looking to the future of the pandemic and after it has passed, both Duggan and Christian said they believe some of the current changes will factor greatly into living choices to come.
“It is very clear that consumers out there in the marketplace looking for senior living services are concerned because of what has occurred in this industry as a whole,” Christian noted. “All of those conversations are going to factor greatly into who they choose to work with and where they choose to reside. There are a lot of layers to this and all providers are going to have to consider them as we move ahead and hopefully out of this pandemic.”
Duggan said, “A key takeaway from the pandemic was the difficulty we saw our seniors had with the social distancing policies. This underlined the need for human interaction to help with not just basic lifestyle needs, but also with memory care and cognitive function.”