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Moving to Senior Living During Coronavirus: What to Expect

By Noah BandtJuly 1, 2021
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The decision to move an elderly loved one into an assisted living or memory care community is always complex, but families of aging adults in need of care during the coronavirus pandemic are faced with unique questions: Is moving even worth the stress? What will the transition be like?

With expanded COVID-19 vaccine availability — and encouraging results — throughout the U.S., the move-in process at many communities now feels a little more like normal.

“We thrive on providing engaging and social environments for our residents, which is why we are thrilled that vaccination rates are climbing and COVID cases in our market areas are declining,” says Christy Van Der Westhuizen, vice president of sales and marketing at MBK Senior Living. “Fully vaccinated residents who have not had recent exposure to COVID-19 may move into an MBK community without quarantining.”

However, safeguards remain in place to help minimize COVID-19-related health risks among senior living populations. Learn what you and your family should expect before, during, and after the move, plus how communities make new members feel welcome as things return to normal.

Senior living, COVID, and what to expect during the move-in process

With COVID-19 guidelines loosening and more of the country reopening, many communities have vacancies they’re trying to fill — while still following extra safety precautions.

“Fully vaccinated people are the most protected, which is why we highly encourage it for the health and safety of our residents and team members,” says Van Der Westhuizen. “Before move-in, all new residents are tested following state and county guidelines. If they are not fully vaccinated, residents are quarantined until a negative result is confirmed.”

Before the move

Preparation is always useful in a move, especially during the pandemic. If you’re helping a loved one move into senior living, be sure to:

  • Ask for measurements, pictures, and walk-through videos ahead of time to predetermine where furniture, art, and belongings will go.
  • Schedule your moving day with the senior living community in advance. It may be difficult to change at the last minute.
  • Make sure your moving company is equipped with personal protective equipment (PPE) and is willing to work in a senior living environment — some movers aren’t currently working with elderly adults.
  • Have easy access to documentation of your loved one’s vaccination card and/or negative COVID-19 test, as well as other medical records.

Questions to ask before moving

Proper planning can make moving your loved one into senior living simpler and safer. Here are 11 specific questions to ask if you’re moving a senior loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • Do residents have to be vaccinated? If so, can the community administer the vaccine if your loved one hasn’t gotten it yet?
  • Have residents and staff relaxed COVID-19 protocols (e.g., deep cleaning, frequent handwashing, etc.)? How closely are they referring to CDC guidance?
  • How are families being kept up to date on their loved one’s health and infection control policies? Is there an outbreak plan for the community?
  • What’s the visitation policy? Has it changed along with vaccination rates? Are visitors being screened?
  • Have all staff members been trained on the CDC’s most up-to-date pandemic health guidelines?
  • Is the community offering virtual tours to limit external visitation?
  • Is COVID-19 testing or quarantining required for new residents moving in?
  • Are there isolation protocols in place in case any residents test positive for coronavirus?
  • Do employees have access to personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, goggles, and gowns?
  • Does the community have adequate cleaning, food, and medication supplies in case local infection rates rise again?
  • 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 isolation?

During the move

Even as vaccine rates increase, many senior living providers have retained streamlined move-in processes to be as quick and efficient as possible while still adhering to sensible safety protocols for senior living. Move-in guidelines may still include:

  • Virtual registration and sign in
  • Designated time slots to allow current residents to socially distance
  • Reserved elevators for moving families, where possible
  • 6-foot distancing. And, full PPE may still be required for everyone entering the community
  • Common surfaces thoroughly disinfected before and after contact
  • Temperature checks and screening for all movers and family

Talk with a Senior Living Advisor

Our advisors help 300,000 families each year find the right senior care for their loved ones.

After the move

Staff help new residents clean, unpack, and settle in. Then, depending on their vaccination status, new residents may still have to self-quarantine based on the community’s requirements. Though protocols differ by location and company, many communities take steps to increase resident safety, such as:

  • Requiring a negative COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to admission
  • Periodic symptom screenings for residents
  • Meals delivered directly to the new resident’s apartment for a designated period

“Keeping our communities clean and safe has always been a priority, but during the pandemic, we upped our game,” says Van Der Westhuizen. “We added electrostatic disinfectant foggers, hand-washing stations, and hand-sanitizer dispensers throughout the community. During the height of the pandemic, we also had additional layers of safety for residents and team members, including quarantining, wearing full PPE, and streamlining services with virtual or in-residence options to encourage social distancing.”

While enhanced safety protocols help ensure a safe transition, many seniors worry about the social aspect of making the move into a community. Adjusting to senior living is different without a greeting committee of residents and the opportunity to meet new friends over dinner. But that doesn’t mean elderly loved ones won’t feel welcome.

“The staff learns interests and preferences to tailor experiences,” says Michael Bardelmeier, senior vice president of operations at MBK Senior Living. Based on those interests, the community sets up socially distanced or virtual small groups to welcome seniors. Residents are cared for and entertained, even during a potential self-quarantine period:

  • Staff prepare and deliver resident-selected meals, along with inspiring messages, notes, or flowers.
  • Residents have access to plenty of puzzles, games, and other great activities for seniors.
  • Introductions are made and friendships begin via technology, virtual letters, and shared interests.

Memory care COVID protocols during move in

People with Alzheimer’s disease and other types of dementia need extra help remembering important hygiene practices, such as hand washing. They may also not understand the need for a mask and could become agitated if a community still maintains strict rules. Because of this, memory care communities require unique precautions during and after move-in, according to Van Der Westhuizen:

  • After moving, memory care residents may not have to quarantine if they are vaccinated, but unvaccinated residents still must quarantine until a negative test result is confirmed.
  • Memory care activitieshave been adapted for social distancing, with residents participating in small groups 6 feet apart.
  • Staff members focus on body language and other forms of non-verbal communication to connect with and comfort memory care residents without physical touch.

Sources:

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. CMS Updates Nursing Home Guidance with Revised Visitation Recommendations.

American Health Care Association, National Center for Assisted Living. COVID Cases In U.S. Nursing Homes.

Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Interim Infection Prevention and Control Recommendations to Prevent SARS-CoV-2 Spread in Nursing Homes.

Department of Health and Human Services. Nursing Home Visitation – COVID-19 (REVISED).

Author
Noah Bandt

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