How to Choose the Best Senior Living Community in a Pandemic

Choosing the right senior community can be daunting, even in the best of times. But trying to find a suitable and safe senior community during the pandemic raises concerns that were never before a part of the equation.

Since March 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed how we think about almost everything in our lives, including where we want to live.

Older individuals who had wanted to move into a senior community before, now worry that it might be the wrong time during a pandemic to make a change. Afterall, it’s hard to ignore new stories about how older adults are more severely affected by Covid-19 than other age groups. People worry that moving to a senior community could be a big mistake.

While there are some legitimate worries, many of the senior living communities have pivoted significantly in the last few months, making them a safe option.

By learning what questions to ask, you can safely choose the best senior living community for your needs—even in a pandemic!

New Times Require New Thinking

Covid-19 has created a watershed moment in the senior care industry. In the past, this industry emphasized hospitality, socialization, and luxurious amenities. But these things have lost their luster in the pandemic.

Times have changed and now the emphasis is on healthcare, safety, and sanitation. Providers have listened to the concerns of current and prospective residents, their families, and workers. They’ve gathered the facts from industry leaders and medical experts.

With no end in sight for Covid-19, seniors looking to relocate must change their thinking too.

Satisfaction is Strong in Some Senior Living Communities

In many senior living communities, most residents are satisfied with how providers have responded in the pandemic. By understanding what led to this satisfaction, you can use this information in your search to find your best senior living situation.

A recent survey of 2000 senior housing residents and their families in Florida, Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas, and Utah showed that many providers have excelled in their response to the pandemic. Some have ignored or responded poorly.

Residents in senior communities owned by large companies were the most satisfied by the response to Covid-19. For instance, they expressed their gratitude for transparent communications with residents and families. They also expressed their gratitude for staff professionalism and positive attitudes on the job.

While socially distancing was difficult for them, they understood the importance of staying away from others and complied with the community restrictions despite feeling a growing sense of isolation. The successful operators have responded by improving their communications with residents and families, helping them to understand and feel more a part of the process.

An overwhelming majority of those surveyed, reported they felt safe during the pandemic as a result of the quick response and safety measures that were put in place by operators.

8 Important Factors to Consider

Senior living communities have had to respond quickly to Covid-19, even when so little was known about it. From the start, operators knew infection control measures were critical to limiting the spread. But many of these measures were costly. In fact, some large companies have spent millions of dollars to put in new equipment, bring in new services, and making changes in how they communicate with residents and their families.

Not all operators have been as nimble and responsive to the new demands. It’s a major reason why some of the largest companies have been more successful in their response to the pandemic and why their residents have been generally satisfied with the changes these companies have made.

Factor #1: Infection Control

Infection control measures is the area that has received the most emphasis in response to Covid-19. And it is the primary topic you should emphasize when choosing you next home.

Infection control covers many factors, from basic hand washing protocol by staff to installing high-tech HEPA filtration systems. Consider what the staff practices are as well as what changes have been made in technology and with the physical aspects of the community to enhance a safe environment.

Staff Practices: Find out if the community has a written policy on what safety measures staff should follow. Ask about the use of gloves, masks, and handwashing. Staffing can be a challenge for communities at this time, so questions about staff turnover and training are important to discuss. Also ask about the protocol for cleaning high touch areas throughout the community.

Physical Plant. Companies have responded in different ways to create a safe and clean environment. Some companies have installed touchless lock and key systems to eliminate surfaces that are touched. Other communities have introduced more sophisticated filtration systems such as UV lighting, water purification systems, and HEPA air purification. The important thing is to investigate what specific measures the community has put in place for infection control.

Factor #2: Medical Services

As the industry has changed from hospitality to healthcare, it is important to examine what medical services are available in the community. For instance, ask if there is easy access to healthcare services, including doctor visits and hospital services.

Find out if the community has an arrangement with a local laboratory for convenient and timely testing. What services are available to re-fill medications?

Ask if the company has a medical direct to guide their response to the virus.

Some companies have set aside separate quarantine rooms during the pandemic to isolate infected residents and to mitigate the possible spread to others. Ask how the community handles residents who have tested positive.

Factor #3: Policy on visitors

It’s important to know if visitors are allowed during the pandemic. If they are allowed, what process is followed to ensure the health and safety of all residents in the community.

Factor #4: Communication between management and residents/family

The most satisfied residents of senior living communities reported good communication between management and residents and their families. But this an area that senior living communities have struggled with the most.

Families want to be reassured that their loved one is safe and healthy, especially when they can’t visit to see for themselves. Regular communication with family members goes a long way to improving everyone’s satisfaction.

It’s hard enough for residents to live in a socially distant environment, and for this reason communication is all the more important to helping them feel a part of the community. Frequent updates to residents lend a sense of comfort and alleviates concerns.

Many operators are embracing how to incorporate the use of technology to help residents, staff, and family feel connected and to ease their worries.

Oakmont Senior Living has been particularly innovative with their use of technology. Each resident is given an iPad loaded with games, contacts, and partners them with other community residents.

Ask what their policy is for communicating with residents and family members and what plans they have for making improvements in this area.

Factor #5: Dining during social distancing

Traditionally, upscale senior living communities have touted their 5-star dining services and luxurious settings. But the rules have changed with Covid-19.

Ask about what meals are provided daily and how they are delivered. Is the food delivered to you in your home or must you go somewhere to eat? Are residents allowed to keep food in their home? Is food preparation allowed in your home? How are dietary restrictions handled?

Factor #6: Resident Living Spaces

Explore what types of floor plans are available, furnishings, privacy concerns, and house cleaning availability. Each community will have different requirements and offerings, so it is important to understand what is available. Ask about monthly charges and additional services that require separate fees.

Factor #7: Common Community Spaces

During the pandemic, it is likely that most or all common community spaces will be closed to residents. But it is important to explore what amenities are available for future use. Also ask about on-site concierge services such as laundry, beauty parlor, fitness rooms, physical therapy, and the like.

Factor #8: Activities and Social Events

Of course, the pandemic has changed how activities can take place. But some communities still offer entertainment and other events in a socially distant way. Find out what the plans are for providing for activities during the current situation and what is planned in the future.

How to Decide Which Community is Right for You

While the pandemic has brought with it a lot of complicating issues and concerns, it is still possible to find your best senior living community where you can be happy and safe. A community that meets your needs and helps you live your best life.

By asking pointed questions about how the community has adjusted to the demands of the pandemic, you can make your decision based on what is important to you. As more is learned about how to navigate the perils of Covid-19, even better options will be available.

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