Assisted Living

The unprecedented times of Covid-19 and the world’s fight against this pandemic leaves senior living communities and caregivers in precarious situations, oftentimes without access to vital resources and subsequently, vilified.

Assisted living facilities in the U.S. serve 730,000-plus of the nation’s most vulnerable population — seniors 65 and older — many of whom have underlying medical conditions and/or do not have family or friends to care for them. This is their home and the essential frontline workers caring for residents at senior communities are often their (surrogate) families. And, their caregivers, their cooks, their social directors and — now more than ever — their primary source of human connection. These essential workers are dedicated to ensuring residents remain engaged, happy and healthy.

As Covid-19 rapidly spread and lockdown prevailed, senior living facilities faced the same supply chain deterioration and inadequate access to personal protective equipment and appropriate testing as the rest of the world. Yet, they were still charged with caring for the nation’s most vulnerable population every single day.

Testing shortages, strict state-mandated criteria surrounding test administration and delayed results left many senior living operators in the dark about the virus entering their communities as well as with regard to potential numbers of infected residents and employees.

The situation and landscape were new to every single person living in these times.

In Paris, Spring Lake Assisted Living’s 32 essential workers come to work every day to care for residents while remaining dedicated to their jobs and the health of the community’s residents as well as their own. Each day, they bring an unrelenting commitment and love to the seniors under their care.

One can only imagine the loneliness and frustration of residents — many of whose anticipated family visits, daily outings and special events were the highlights of their days — prior to Covid-19.

At Spring Lake Assisted Living, where I was formerly wellness director, the essential frontline team did not surrender to Covid-19. Instead, they got creative and found ways to practice social distancing while keeping residents engaged, ensuring there was enough PPE on hand to protect staff and residents and executing appropriate activities to stay connected to loved ones.

In addition to closing the doors to anyone other than staff, opening only one entrance into the building, requiring sign-ins and completion of questionnaires, temperature taking was also put into effect for both staff and residents.

Being in a small rural town, people through the area are very willing to help out when needed. We have received several donations of handmade masks — just for us, which truly touched all our hearts.

Our top priority is keeping our residents safe and healthy. Our next priority is to make certain they are engaged in numerous activities to keep busy while their families and friends cannot visit. Our iPad helps residents hear and see their families without being physically exposed. Pre-scheduled time with families through a window have also helped keep that ever-so-important connection. Our own community parade for residents saw the driving by of more than 50 cars containing family members and friends. This lifted the residents’ spirits as this was one of the first major events held where they could see their families from afar. We have since held outdoor concerts where residents were spread out on the front lawn to enjoy music provided by a resident’s family member. We also held several courtyard cookouts that have been a great hit with the residents, too.

Long-term care facilities are caring for the most susceptible people without being afforded the necessary tools. In fact, in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, there was nothing specifically allocated for the senior living industry, which is highly unfortunate, since employees within this space, like our staff, are on the front lines each and every day, serving the segment of the population most vulnerable to this pandemic

We are all figuring out the rulebook for what is now the new worldwide normal, a task we will gladly undertake as we make every effort to protect our nation’s seniors and our own residents.

Bailee Syrus, RN, is Wellness Director Specialist for the North Texas Region at Capital Senior Living.

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