Assisted Living Facilities Learned Lessons through COVID-19

by Mark Lawrence

The past year has been difficult on healthcare workers, residents of assisted living facilities and their families. The challenges of COVID-19 affected assisted living communities across the country. Residents often had to be quarantined, facing solitude with only books, television, phone calls, video calls and the presence of the care providers to keep them company. The day-to-day community aspect of assisted living facilities changed due to COVID. 

Assisted living facilities were forced to make drastic changes during the height of the pandemic. However, those changes taught us lessons that will be used to improve the health and safety and lifestyles of the residents, family members and care providers.

Continue Monitoring Respiratory Illnesses

When COVID first started, we began requiring temperature checks for all residents and employees. Employees with fever were required to return home and be tested for COVID-19. Residents were quarantined in their rooms, with nurses providing healthcare and tending to their needs. While they were quarantined, we monitored residents’ symptoms and took them to the hospital if needed. We followed CDC guidelines to ensure the safety of residents and staff.

We still recommend monitoring residents’ temperatures and respiratory function despite the decrease in COVID-19 cases. By continuing this task, we can easily spot cold or flu symptoms and initiate treatment more effectively. By taking a proactive approach we can identify cold and flu symptoms before they become more severe. 

Creating Visitation Opportunities

Loneliness was a major issue during the pandemic. The inability of residents to see friends and family was a strain on their physical and mental health. At Oakmont, we provided our guests with sanitized iPads, so residents could take them to their rooms for privacy and talk to their family members. This stopgap solution allowed residents some contact with their families, but it was no substitute for in-person interaction. As time went on, we began having open-door family meetings. Family members were allowed to come to the facility and stand outside the front door and communicate through an open window. This allowed socially distanced visits for families to speak to their grandparent or parent, providing a sense of connection for our residents and helping fight depression.

At Oakmont, we have already implemented new socially distanced ways for family members to connect with our residents. Picnic tables have been set up in the yard at a socially distanced space in order for visits to take place in a safe manner. Each guest has their temperature taken before entering the home and being escorted to the visitation area. After the visitation, the tables are sanitized and wiped down. By making this space, we can make sure our residents are receiving that much needed connection with family.

Staying Positive

During the height of COVID, it was difficult to keep a positive mindset. The strain of the pandemic made it difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We kept our spirits bright by reminding ourselves that each passing day was one day closer to the end of the pandemic. We were able to learn more about where Arizona stood in the pandemic by reaching out to local organizations, and it helped us know we were heading in the right direction. 

We also learned that people were willing to help if you asked for it. Working with community members willing to help let us know we weren’t in this situation alone and that people will always come together during a time of crisis. Staying positive was a key aspect in keeping the mood light and keeping spirits up even during the darkest part of the pandemic.

Assisted living facilities faced multiple challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many lessons were learned that can continue to be used to keep residents, employees and care providers safe if another pandemic occurs.

Mark Lawrence is the care home manager of Oakmont Assisted Living Home, a luxury assisted living facility in Scottsdale.

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