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Senior Living and Coronavirus: What You Need to Know

Angelike Gaunt
By Angelike GauntJanuary 8, 2021
Senior living caregiver using hand sanitizer to protect from coronavirus germs.

The recent emergency authorization of COVID-19 vaccines by the Food and Drug Administration is set to bring much relief to senior living communities across the U.S. The vaccine rollout in assisted living communities and other long-term care communities started before Christmas 2020 in several states, and vaccine distribution is expected to continue to expand to communities across the rest of the country in early 2021.

However, even as many assisted living communities start vaccine clinics, other preventive measures remain in place to protect residents and staff. Learn eight ways senior living communities continue to keep seniors safe during the coronavirus pandemic, and 11 questions to ask if you’re moving a loved one during this time.  

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8 steps senior living communities are taking to protect residents during the coronavirus pandemic

Throughout the pandemic, A Place for Mom’s network of thousands of communities has continued to update their infection control measures according to local and CDC guidelines. Equipped with these guidelines and their own clinical expertise, communities have implemented these eight key best practices.

  1. COVID-19 vaccination. Many assisted living communities have started vaccinating residents and staff at onsite vaccine clinics run by pharmacy staff from CVS Health, Walgreens, or another pharmacy partner. Vaccination started in 12 states before Christmas and continues to expand across the country, with millions of long-term care facility residents and staff expected to be vaccinated by mid-March. While vaccination isn’t mandatory, many communities are strongly encouraging it.
  1. COVID-19 testing. In addition to conducting regular temperature checks, many communities extensively test staff and residents for COVID-19 onsite. New seniors moving in may have the option to be tested or to quarantine for 14 days.
  1. Virtual tours. To protect residents and staff, especially if area coronavirus rates are high, in-person senior living tours may not be permitted. A Place for Mom’s virtual tour app allows families to easily and safely tour any of our partner communities together even if they live in different locations. These tours give families the opportunity to get acquainted with community amenities and have their questions answered.

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  1. Promoting safe connections. Communities follow local guidelines to protect residents. When visits aren’t possible, residents participate in virtual chat sessions to stay connected with their loved ones.
    As circumstances allow, some communities safely schedule in-suite visits from essential caregivers who have tested negative for COVID-19 or outdoor, socially distanced visits with friends and family. “In communities without an active outbreak, our essential caregiver program allows one designee to have limited visitation,” explains Gary Olive, vice president of sales and marketing at Ridge Care Senior Living in North Carolina. Ridge Care started COVID-19 vaccine clinics before Christmas. “We had good acceptance from staff and residents,” says Olive. “With vaccination, we hope to increase access to residents.”

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  1. Educating staff, residents, and families. Communities have developed communication plans to ensure transparent and regular communication with staff, residents, and families. Communication focuses on keeping everyone informed of safety strategies — such as mask wearing, frequent hand washing, social distancing, and enhanced cleaning measures — and reporting any concerning events.
  1. Deep cleaning. Communities are diligent about cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and objects in common areas, such as door handles, faucets, handrails, tables, and chairs. Frequent hand hygiene through hand-washing and use of hand sanitizers is a requirement for staff and strongly encouraged among residents. These preventive measures are expected to continue even as residents and staff are vaccinated.
  1. Finding new ways to engage. Senior living staff are finding new, safe activities to keep senior living residents engaged while using creativity and technology to increase connection. Some communities like Sunrise Senior Living deliver personalized packages with activities to residents’ rooms. Their Suite Stops engagement kits may include puzzles, word searches, coloring pages, and other cognitive activities based on individual interests.
    Other communities hold small-group programming outside, such as socially distanced walking clubs, brain boosting games, and lemonade stands. Communities like Ridge Care hope the COVID-19 vaccine rollout will help normalize activities in the next several months. “We hope to be able to increase activities once vaccinations are complete,” says Olive.
  1. Safe dining. Some communities deliver meals door-to-door to residents’ suites. Others have modified dining room configurations to space out tables and make communal dining possible as long as there are no active COVID-19 infections for at least two weeks.

Ensuring your loved one’s safety: questions to ask before moving

Asking the right questions can give you confidence in your senior living decisions. Here are 11 specific questions to ask if you’re moving a senior loved one during this time:

  1. Are COVID-19 vaccine clinics available? If so, is the COVID-19 vaccine also available to new residents?
  2. What safety protocols are being implemented to protect residents and staff during the pandemic (e.g., deep cleaning, frequent handwashing, etc.)?
  3. How are families being kept up to date on their loved one’s health, infection control policies, and outbreaks in the community?
  4. What’s the visitation policy during the pandemic? If visits are allowed, how are visitors being screened before entry?
  5. Have all staff members been trained on the CDC’s most up-to-date pandemic health guidelines?
  6. Is the community offering virtual tours to limit external visitation?
  7. Is COVID-19 testing or quarantining required for new residents moving in?
  8. Are there isolation protocols in place in case any residents test positive for coronavirus?
  9. Do employees have access to personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, goggles, and gowns?
  10. Does the community have adequate cleaning, food, and medication supplies in case of national shortages?
  11. How is the community keeping residents engaged and connected with family and friends? What kind of technology and virtual activities are available to minimize the effects of social distancing?

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Considerations for Preventing Spread of COVID-19 in Assisted Living.”
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/assisted-living.html.

Sunrise Senior Living. “Phased Resumption of Operations Plan.”
https://www.sunriseseniorliving.com/covid-19_resumption.aspx.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Older Adults.”
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/older-adults.html

Angelike Gaunt
Author
Angelike Gaunt

Angelike Gaunt is a content strategist at A Place for Mom. She’s developed health content for consumers and medical professionals at major health care organizations, including Mayo Clinic, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the University of Kansas Health System. She’s passionate about developing accessible content to simplify complex health topics.

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