Senior living operators are protecting vulnerable populations

Published 3:25 pm Tuesday, May 5, 2020

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By Eric Mendelsohn
President and CEO
National Health Investors
Every day during this pandemic, we wake up to more disheartening headlines and personal stories from friends and family as we all work to combat COVID-19.
Among them are stories of families grappling with how best to protect loved ones in nursing homes, assisted living and other types of senior living facilities.
Senior living providers in the U.S. employ 900,000 workers and care for almost two million seniors, including America’s veterans and their spouses, living in independent living, assisted living, memory care, and continuing care retirement communities.
Senior housing operators are taking great pains to do everything in their power to protect residents from infection and are working tirelessly to keep residents and staff as safe and healthy as possible.
They have always embraced the responsibility for providing care to this vulnerable elderly population, and they feel the weight and duty of doing all they can to protect those within their care.
Headlines advising families to pull loved ones out of senior living facilities, even temporarily, are alarming and misguided.
Senior living operators have deep clinical and infection expertise, and frankly, they have more access to essentials for care right now.
Senior housing communities have supply chain relationships and commercial accounts that are providing seniors with necessities that may be harder or impossible to secure at home. This includes access to prescriptions, food, toilet paper, sanitizers, face masks and other essentials that may be difficult to find for the family home.
In addition, most buildings, if licensed, have nurses and even physicians on staff allowing access to medical expertise in times of need.
If I could offer one piece of consolation to those family members of our residents, it would be that our operators are taking significant, intentional steps to protect residents. The CDC has very detailed guidelines for these communities that are being followed. From meals being delivered to rooms instead of group dining to screening or not permitting outside visitors, each building has stringent precautions that are being taken.
At the end of the day, who better to take care of our parents and grandparents than trained, professional healthcare workers who have access to masks, gloves, disinfectants and more?
Older adults become more at risk when they’re taken out of professional care and brought into the home. Every time a family member leaves their home and returns (even for just essentials), that puts the senior at a higher risk of contamination.
In addition, some residents have physical and behavioral issues that are much more difficult to manage at home, and home health services are harder to access right now. Another concern in bringing someone home: the possibility of residents being placed on a waiting list before they can return.
Ultimately, each family must weigh the risks. However, I want families to be assured that we see operators making good decisions and taking action based on the principles they value — selflessly caring for their residents, nurturing a company culture that appreciates employees and providing guidance and comfort to the families of their residents.
In my role as head of one of the largest owners of senior living communities in the U.S., I have witnessed how senior living operators for the 240 communities we own are responding. I believe when history reflects back on our industry and its practices during this time, senior living operators will be hailed as heroes.

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