When the COVID-19 wave hit the U.S. in mid-March, the senior living sector was among the first to feel the effects of this unprecedented crisis. The total number of cases is still on the rise, with seniors representing the most vulnerable age group. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 7,700 facilities in 43 states had known cases of infection as of May 21. Moreover, roughly 35,000 deaths were linked to care facilities. To limit the impact of the virus, severe restrictions were enacted in many senior living communities, and rigorous sanitation protocols were put in place to protect the health and safety of both residents and employees.
Avanti Senior Living Chief Operating Officer Lori Alford believes that acting promptly “when it was clear that there could be asymptomatic shedding of cells and transmission” is what helped the company avoid any COVID-19 infections across all its locations. Avanti Senior Living has a total capacity of approximately 500 residents and roughly 400 employees. To find out what senior living owners and managers need to know to keep their communities safe, we asked Alford to share details about her anti-coronavirus strategy.
Rely on technology
As person-to-person contact is to be avoided, technology is the easiest way to engage with residents and it also allows them to connect with each other. Not only does technology enable communication, but it also restricts nonessential movement in and out of a community. Additionally, through the deployment of telehealth, senior residents avoid taking risks.
“Our philosophy was that we want them protected and not having to go to the hospital or other care facilities where they’d be exposed. We extended the same telehealth benefit coverage to all of our team members as well,” Alford said.
Provide emotional support, trusted leadership
Through authenticity and transparency, senior living community owners and managers can build their residents’ and employees’ trust. In times of crisis, everyone needs a reliable source of leadership and a reason to believe they will get through the rough times. Constantly sending updates and explaining each step of the process is what helped Avanti keep its team members calm and its residents safe.
“In a time when we are facing so much uncertainty, being more and more upfront has been received tremendously (well). None of us have ever faced a pandemic before. This has been an experience that brought us all together and being there and recognizing the human piece of this is critical,” Alford added.
Increase communication with families
Another important piece of advice is to make sure that residents’ families are informed and up to date with all the decisions taken by the management of the senior living community. Alford recommends sending daily updates to families on their loved ones—from what they ate, to safe social or virtual activities and photos.
“These personal communications and real-time updates have deepened the connection even more with our families. Our teams are also sending personal text messages with photos and videos throughout the week. Our staff and residents have received letters, care baskets, chalk messages and parades from this wonderful group,” Alford said.
Going forward, the real impact on the senior housing segment will be coming more into focus. The moratoriums on move-ins that many properties have put into place to protect staff and residents have resulted in declines in occupancy rates at senior housing properties, according to a recent executive survey released by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care. Additionally, Alford also expects to see ongoing regulatory scrutiny and additional litigation claims for those that faced COVID-19 outbreaks.
“These issues add to our complexity and could impact insurance costs down the road. We also need to know that gaining consumer confidence will be key as well. There may also be some planning requirements that stay with us for some time. Having a ready supply of personal protective equipment at all times will be a necessity as we wait and see how long the impact will be,” Alford concluded.