Reprinted from the Colorado Real Estate Journal - In recent decades, the senior living industry has maintained a strong focus on wellness, but the social distancing restrictions necessitated by COVID-19 have forced many senior living operators to devise a whole new range of strategies to support their residents’ wellness needs. The good news is that 2020 is forcing innovation and many good practices are emerging that will live beyond these times.
In the pre-COVID world, supporting wellness has meant senior living communities that offered events and activities to encourage socialization and provide opportunities for intellectual stimulation, such as in-person classes, seminars, social events and outings in the community.
It has also meant communities that offered access to on-site amenities to enhance residents’ physical well-being, like a fitness center that offers exercise classes, or on-campus walking paths that allow for a stroll the community grounds. And, for assisted living and memory care communities, supporting wellness has meant communities that provided the peace of mind that comes with a 24/7 nursing staff.
Over the last six months of the pandemic, most senior living operators in Colorado have been able to control the spread of COVID-19 by following guidance from the state health department and the Centers for Disease Control regarding personal protective equipment, visitation restrictions for non-essential persons and strict sanitation protocols facility-wide. As infection control is a way of life for senior living operators all the time, most were prepared to heighten their practices to ensure safety.
But while communities uphold these straightforward measures to protect residents’ health, many have also taken it upon themselves to find new and innovative ways to support resident wellness and engage the social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual and physical components of a fulfilling lifestyle.
For example, after restricting visitations from family and friends for months, some senior living communities found ways to establish a safe indoor or outdoor visiting area and reunite their residents with loved ones. Other communities have taken the initiative and installed high-speed internet services throughout the premises so residents and staff can better communicate with families. Staff also has become adept at communication tools to help maintain relationships and connection to outside arts and entertainment opportunities.
Still other communities worked with their teams to brainstorm creative activities that residents can participate in virtually from the safety of their apartment. Jackson Creek Senior Living in Monument recently launched a new television channel, a CCTV network streaming to all residents’ rooms that provides access to the latest information from the community as well as live activities, including group exercise classes, church services and more. These programs also serve to supplement socially distanced activities at the community that are in-person, such as Spirit Weeks, hallway exercise classes and in-room deliveries from the happy hour cart.
In other communities, amenities such as greenhouses have provided opportunities for residents to engage in purposeful, relaxing activities with others, while doing so socially distanced in ventilated environments.
After a lull in the spring due to the pandemic, interest in senior living has surged, and the inquiries we are receiving have a noticeable sense of urgency. With families cautious to visit parents or loved ones, concern about them being home alone is real. As a result, prospects are asking about the care, support and wellness opportunities that are being offered. Numerous residents have also confirmed the benefits of senior living in their own words, with many emphasizing the value of being able to connect with their peers.
Commenting in a recent article about senior living during the pandemic, one resident at a continuing care retirement community in Gig Harbor, Washington, told CNN that, "Even though we're strongly advised not to go into each other's apartments, at least we can see each other in the hall and down in the lobby and down on the decks outside. As far as isolation, you're isolating here with over 200 people: There's somebody always around."
Another reason for this shift is an increased awareness of what senior living offers. Numerous media reports have publicized efforts by communities to heighten safety and sanitation protocols within their facilities; make a special efforts to communicate regularly with families and the greater community about their COVID-19 precautions and resident engagement efforts; and offer programs that help residents procure groceries, prescriptions and other essential supplies without having to leave campus.
While over the last six months, COVID-19 has thrown a wrench into how wellness is being delivered at senior living communities, it’s increasingly apparent that operators have continued to do what they do best: supporting wellness by bolstering resident engagement; maintaining health and safety protocol; and being proactive and creative enough to adapt to these challenging times.
Margie Guerrieri is the Regional Marketing and Sales Director for WellAge Senior Living, a Colorado-based senior living management company.