Grandpa’s Perspective of COVID in Senior Living
As an industry, we have experienced dramatic changes and adaptions since COVID began.
There has been no shortage of articles, blogs, and posts regarding best practices for managing the pandemic.
We thought it would be interesting to talk to a senior living resident to gather their insight on the pandemic. We wondered how they survived, managed the changes, and how it has changed their perspective of senior living.
So I interviewed my grandpa Bill, who lives at an independent living community in the heart of Iowa. (We have decided not to publish his or the community's name, for privacy purposes.)
I wanted to get his perspective on senior living during the pandemic and what grandpa Bill believes the future looks like for senior living communities.
What was the most difficult aspect of living in senior living during a pandemic?
“Confinement to my apartment,” Bill began. “We had to get meals delivered, we ate alone for three to four months, our mail was delivered to our door, we couldn’t exercise in the fitness center. Basically all we could do was take our trash out and go for walks outside.”
"Plus, like most places at the height of the pandemic, masks were required at all times while in the building," Bill added.
He mentioned one thing his community did to help minimize stress during the peak of isolation, original exercise programs on TV that residents participated in each day.
His community also highly recommended ordering groceries online to avoid crowds at the store. This was a technical challenge for most, as the closest thing they’ve had to this experience was milk being delivered to their doors 50 years ago.
Did any residents leave during the pandemic?
“Yes, there were a handful that temporarily relocated to their vacation homes and five to ten that left our community permanently. Anyone that came back from a highly populated area, had to quarantine in their apartment for 21 days.”
Luckily, no one in independent living passed away during that time.
Bill said his community did a good job keeping everyone safe, but that’s about all he was satisfied with. The food and service was tolerable, and verifying the correct order became an everyday activity.
How do you feel about the dining room closing to guests again?
“It is what it is. It’s the prudent thing to do, but on the other hand the facility is still open to visitors (restricted to apartments only), and I question whether or not they’re being opportunistic because of COVID. Outside vendors still come through and they’re remodeling even though there’s a restriction to outside people doing certain activities in the facilities.”
Is the labor shortage effecting you?
Since the start of the pandemic, his community has been short on housekeepers, maintenance, and service employees. Right now, they’re still not fully staffed, but they’re able to get by. “Our management is having trouble retaining staff.” Which is reported as a nation-wide and industry-wide issue.
They also outsource staff for the salon at his community. There were no haircuts, nail appointments, or massages for months. That is back up and running now.
Was there an emotional toll of isolation?
“On a scale of 1-10 (ten being the worst) what kind of emotional toll did COVID have on you?” I asked.
“About 6 or 7. I wasn’t able to see friends or family that didn’t live in my community. Seasonal changes made it very difficult as I couldn’t go outside and walk around during the cold, which was one of the only freedoms I had left.”
One thing that eased stress and anxiety was meeting with “the pod," a group of roughly ten residents, that would meet outside and talk while avoiding close contact.
How did it feel, knowing you and your close neighbors are in a high-risk population?
“Felt little risk because I feel that the risks are related to time of exposure and concentration.” This belief comes from his background in science and microbiology.
“I’m also surrounded by people that I trust to keep one another safe. When you live in a retirement home like I do, you’re with these people for the rest of your life, so you want to hold onto that as long as you can. People here would do anything to minimize risk.”
Do you voluntarily continue any previously mandatory restrictions?
"Yes, I limit my exposure to large crowds of people that I don't know."
What are you most excited for with the end of the pandemic?
“No masks, reopening dining to guests, a general lift of visitor restrictions."
Additionally, Bill said most residents are looking forward to gaining back the level of freedom and human interaction they had prior to the pandemic.
What would you change if there was another pandemic?
“I’d think about relocating to another retirement facility that wasn’t connected to a health center.”
Adding, he explained that any building connected to a health center had much higher restrictions during COVID.
“I prefer the accommodations of community living, but due to the health center, we had many restrictions.”
-Cameron L, FullCount
Want to learn more about COVID in senior living? Check out our Post-Covid Senior Living Executive Survey Results.