Senior Living … More To Do, But We Can’t Do It Alone
By Lawrence D. Carlson
I don’t think the average person realizes the dynamic of care that goes on in a senior living community. Our residents live with us, in most cases, for years. Staff and residents develop personal relationships. A familial bond grows.
This time of pandemic is very personal to staff. It’s why they continue to come to work each day to care for their residents. It’s why there is so much emotion in a senior living community. It’s why there is so much grief when a resident passes away.
In my 45 years as a licensed nursing home administrator I thought I had seen it all, both good and bad. I am the leader of a senior living and care system with a statewide presence who is called to be supportive, optimistic, and strategic. But this pandemic, more than any other obstacle that I have faced in my professional life, has brought an issue into very sharp relief. We need more support, both emotional and financial, for seniors and the senior care facilities that serve them.
When news of the coming pandemic hit in February our team started to prepare and think through how we would handle it. Numerous leadership conversations ensued, and decisions were made to protect those entrusted to our care. We acted quickly. We were ahead of the state guidance to close down visitation and move away from group activities and communal dining. As our emergency plan articulated, we made plans to group our residents and staff.
Then came the directive that we could not require anyone admitted into our communities to be prescreened for COVID-19. In fact, the regulation to nursing homes forbade it. How could we control and prevent an outbreak if we couldn’t even know what was coming in the door? Even if we had been allowed to test, testing capability was virtually inaccessible.
We had an adequate supply of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), but we knew we’d go through it quickly if just one of our communities had an outbreak. As we endeavored to purchase more, it quickly became evident that a whole new “cottage industry” of PPE providers had sprung up, charging anywhere from 10 to 30 times what we would normally pay, which is outrageous! Senior living providers were left on their own, scrambling to locate needed PPE and testing with no support.
Then, the posting of the number of all positive resident cases and the number of deaths was mandated. The outcry began against the very people who were diligently caring for the most vulnerable. A screaming headline in our local paper stated: “COVID-19 infects 17, kills 2!” Senior living is portrayed as a failure in the media, yet people with COVID-19 are sick and dying elsewhere with those organizations and staff getting support and understanding. Why is senior living vilified?
We are very good at what we do. We care about our residents or we wouldn’t be in this business. We excel at infection control and practice it daily. We manage it through every seasonal flu outbreak. The resources needed to do our job are in short supply, yet we excel anyway.
As a not-for-profit faith-based provider of senior care that has been operating in New Jersey for over 100 years, we have only one mission: to compassionately serve in community so that all are free to choose abundant life. We serve people with compassion, respect, service and dedication. We don’t “warehouse” anyone.
The macro problem is that the senior living industry is very regulated and under-resourced. It is my belief that society and those who regulate the industry need to support, encourage, and fund the good work of the thousands of dedicated organizations and staff who care deeply and personally about those entrusted to their care.
Ask yourself this, how would you want the organization and workers who care for your grandparent, parent, or sibling to be supported during these times? Certainly, we are doing our best to go above and beyond to provide the best service to our residents. There is more to be done, but we can’t do it alone.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: The author, Lawrence D. Carlson is President and CEO of United Methodist Communities. The nonprofit, faith-based organization offers a full range of services in nine senior living communities and three home care offices in New Jersey.