assisted living

Choosing a Senior Living Community in a COVID-19 World

By: Nancy Carman, MA, CECC, CMC, Fendrick Morgan Elder Care Coordinator

Who could have imagined just six months ago that an elder looking to move into a senior living community today would have to take into consideration potential virus exposure and isolation precautions?  In the age of COVID-19, elders are attempting to age in place in their home or their adult child’s home, rather than proactively moving to a senior living community.  While this may work in the best of circumstances, often it proves to be a very temporary plan. I am finding that elders who are now moving to an assisted living residence or a nursing care facility, are doing so because of a pressing health concern such as limited mobility and need for a 24/7 caregiver or cognitive need where, for example, someone with dementia is up all night or attempting to wander outside the home.  More times than not, moving to an assisted living residence or nursing home has now become a move of necessity, rather than a proactive choice.

As an Elder Care Coordinator, certified in geriatric care management, I assist elders and families make the best choice possible of a supportive senior living environment taking into consideration all the different factors.  I have been working with elders and their family members in South Jersey since 1990.  Over the years I have become very familiar with the various senior living facilities and have been a valuable resource to families.  Because elders and their families are not permitted to tour assisted living residences or nursing homes due to COVID-19 restrictions, my knowledge as to what each community offers and what is the best fit for their loved one has proven to be invaluable.  More than ever, in these difficult times you need to work with an elder care coordinator to assist in making the best possible choice of a senior living community.

One of the first things that I suggest families consider is the geographic location of the senior living community.  It should be as close to supportive family members as possible for easy accessibility and travel.  Most assisted living residences and nursing homes are now holding outside meetings for their residents in covered porches or tented areas.  Family members have to make an advanced reservation for this 15-30 minute get together and all must wear masks and stay social distanced at 6 feet apart from each other.  As difficult as it may be, no hugging or personal contact can occur, the goal of the facility is to keep the elder and family members safe.  We are all hoping and waiting for the day when friends and relatives can again spend time with their elderly loved one inside the senior residence without fear of transmitting or becoming infected with COVID-19.  In addition, the family is also going to want to periodically drop off personal care items, snacks, and clothing, so location becomes important with all of these on-site visits.

Families often express fear that they loved going into an assisted living community or nursing home, with restricted 1:1 visits, will not be able to communicate regularly with relatives and loved ones.  So, it’s important to ask the senior living community you’re considering what type of schedule they have for telephone, Facetime, Skype, Zoom, or an old-fashioned window visit so that family can regular virtual meetings with their loved one.  I often suggest to families to ask the community about placing an Echo Show device in your loved one’s room.  This runs off of WIFI and if the family member has an iPhone, you can use the Echo Show as a way to “drop-in” and visit.  This doesn’t require any effort on the resident’s behalf and they can enjoy a video chat with clear sound.

Along with knowing what the residence’s COVID-19 protocol is for keeping residents and staff virus-free, the move-in protocol can be very detailed.  Ask your contact person at the facility how and when COVID-19 testing is required.  Will your loved one be required to be isolated in their room for a certain number of days?  If there is an insolation requirement and your loved one is transitioning to a Memory Care residence, I recommend that you ask the facility if they will provide a 1:1 24/7 companion for the first few days to make sure that your loved one acclimates successfully to their new home.

Over the past six months, many senior living communities have had to close their doors to new admissions while at the same time losing a number of their long-standing residents.  This has led to a surplus of empty rooms and apartments in assisted living and nursing homes.  I am finding that many communities are offering incentives to those considering moving to their communities.  These may include waived community fees, decreased monthly fees for a certain length of time, guaranteed rates for more than a year, and even decreased time requirements for private payment before the community will accept Medicaid.

Our caring Life Care Planning team can assist your family through this difficult senior living maze of options to ensure that your loved one finds the most supportive and safe care setting, whether that is at home, at a family’s home, or a senior living community.  If you are considering long term placement for a loved one, in either an assisted living residence or nursing home, we are here and happy to assist you to navigate that process.

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