Health Care

Seniors: Protection & Prevention

COVID-19 is changing a lot about daily life very quickly, and that’s especially true in senior living communities. New precautions are taken daily to protect those most vulnerable to infection. “It’s important that people remember that these restrictions aren’t forever,” says Lynn Meyer, BSN, MPH, CIC, an infection preventionist at Friendship Village who trained at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “We are dealing with a population that is more susceptible to COVID-19 and are doing everything possible to protect them.”

please, no visitors
As per recommendation from the CDC, senior living communities are limiting visitors. At both Friendship Village locations, guests are still allowed for residents in independent living, but they are banned from the skilled nursing and assisted living facilities. Meyer says the only exception is end-of-life care. “Visitors are screened, and they must wear masks,” she adds.

Bob Leonard, co-owner and vice president of operations of The Gatesworth communities, says that along with restricting visitors, they have discontinued tours and are currently not taking applications for new residents. “After a health screening, people who are scheduled to move in still can,” he notes. Friendship Village still is taking new residents, but tours have been suspended, and meetings with interested parties are held off-site.

staying connected
With the new restrictions, families are understandably concerned about being unable to see their loved ones, but technology keeps everyone connected. “Communication is key,” Meyer says. “I answer families’ questions over email and phone, and we have iPads for residents whose phones aren’t capable of video messaging.” Friendship Village also posts daily updates on its website for families.

Leonard says Gatesworth staff works with residents one-on-one to help with technology. This includes helping them order groceries online. “We strongly encourage residents not to leave the building, except for necessary doctor’s appointments,” he notes. “The vast majority of residents and families are grateful we are taking these precautions and are using Skype and FaceTime to communicate.”

at a distance
Just like everywhere else, social distancing is recommended in senior living communities. Leonard says The Gatesworth is limiting capacity in its dining rooms, and residents instead are encouraged to order room service. “We don’t allow groups of more than 10,” he says. As an alternative to small group activities, The Gatesworth community is using its in-house TV channels to broadcast movies and keep residents informed of the latest news.

Meyer says throughout all of these drastic changes, it’s important to be aware of the negative effects of isolation. “When you cut off human contact, it can lead to depression, increased panic and problems with diet,” she says. To keep Friendship Village residents engaged and updated, Meyer films town hall meetings. Special performances and church services also are broadcast.

employee health 
To keep Gatesworth residents safe, Leonard says at the beginning of each shift, employees answer a short questionnaire recommended by the CDC and have their temperatures taken. “Employees running a fever immediately are sent home,” he says. “If they answer yes to any questions, we have them further evaluated.” It’s recommended that anyone who feels ill stay home,and each community is preparing for the possibility of working with a reduced staff.

To keep everyone’s morale up, daily raffles have been implemented. When an employee is screened, their name is entered into drawings for cash prizes. “Even though the situation is serious, it helps keep things light,” Leonard notes. “It’s all about prevention and doing everything we can to minimize the risk.”