Posted on May 27, 2020 in Senior Living
COVID-19 has unquestionably shaken up senior care to its core. In mid-March, Landmark Senior Living communities, along with many assisted living operators grappled with the need to drastically tighten the infectious disease protocols used to stem the spread of influenza, norovirus and other similar diseases that typically don’t capture public’s imagination, but can be devastating to the frail seniors we serve.
The strict mandates to wear PPE, including masks, face shields and gowns that keeps our staff and residents safe unfortunately turns the typically home-like setting of an assisted living into something closer to a hospital. While these outfits together with smell of hospital-grade disinfectants that replaced pleasant floral aromas have ruined the atmosphere of “grandma’s home” that we aim to maintain for the comfort of our residents, these moves were absolutely necessary and will be a new normal for many months to come.
The most difficult set of decisions that our management team had to make when COVID-19 protocols were implemented was striking the right balance between keeping our residents safe from the disease, and maintaining quality of life. Family members are not permitted on premises per Department of Health guidance. Many communities rushed to cancel communal dining and group activities. This would certainly be a necessary evil if a lockdown lasted just a couple of weeks, but we knew we were in it for the long run. Imagine you are living what statistically is the last two years of your life – and you cannot see your family, you cannot see your friends in the community, you are confined to your small apartment. Our decades of operational experience told us that given these conditions our residents would quickly decline – not from COVID-19, but from losing the will to live, quickly deteriorating mentally and physically.
The protocols we have established include socially-distanced dining with ample space for residents to be at a safe distance from each other, but still take that walk to and from the dining hall, interact with fellow community members, see and be seen. We continued group activities, but had to limit the number of participants, while making sure that we give everyone a chance to stay active – if you didn’t make a cut for trivia, Pokeno or a round of Wii tennis on Monday, you would get the priority on Tuesday. This was by no means an easy decision and with a couple communities where we had residents with COVID-19 we had to go scale back and move into stricter quarantine. It is an excruciatingly difficult daily calculus that our managers have to carefully weigh – the price of mistakes is high, there are lives lost to this disease at our communities and elsewhere, but weighing against that is happiness in resident’s faces when they get another month of quality life instead of a lockdown in front of a TV with a barrage of bad news.
Last but not least, we had a pragmatic and sober approach to technology. While telehealth and video chats do have their place in the health ecosystem and even in senior care, it is a poor substitute for human presence and personal care. While we facilitated video-chats between our residents and family members, it simply did not compare to personal visits. With spring weather improving, we started setting up dedicated areas outside our buildings where families could see each other – at a safe distance of over 6 feet. Tears were shed. Prayers were shared. These were some of the most touching and tender moments we have observed in our communities.
The bar for senior care has certainly been raised and the margin of error narrowed. There is no easy answer. Staying at home is not necessarily safe, especially if you have children and teenagers in the same household as seniors. Strict quarantine would keep seniors safe from COVID-19, but sacrifice quality of life. The best we can do is take it one day at a time, continuing to weigh risks, maintaining strict adherence to safety protocols and patiently wait for the arrival of the vaccine.
President, Landmark Senior Living
Social distanced family visits at Landmark at Desert Gardens