Navigating the Senior Living Search Process During COVID

Thursday, March 12th was the last time my daughter went to school. That afternoon, when she hopped off the bus and grabbed my hand, I assumed things would be back to normal in about two weeks. As of this writing, our school system is hoping the kids can start going back in NOVEMBER!

Nowhere has the impact of COVID been greater than in a senior living search. It was never a simple process (!), but it did have some constants that families could count on. Today, even those are different.

And yet, the older adults in our lives continue to require our attention and care. The need to identify and choose a safe, clean, comfortable care solution for them is as great as ever. That’s been our focus at 2Sisters for nearly 10 years now (I know, I can’t believe it’s 10 years already, either!) and that hasn’t changed. We are more committed than ever, in fact, to guiding our clients in making the decisions that are right for them.

With that in mind, let’s look at three, big, COVID-related changes that have had an impact on the senior living search process and how we have attempted to manage through them.

Change #1: On-Site Visits

Pre-pandemic, we encouraged clients to sample meals and attend events on-site and suggested that they visit a potential community multiple times, with and without an appointment.

That’s no longer happening. Yes, some communities will take you on a predetermined “tour route,” allowing you to step inside the building and have a look. But, truthfully, it’s hard to get an accurate feel for a community when seating in the lobby has been removed, public areas are taped off, and residents are nowhere to be found.

Under these conditions, our deep familiarity with the various communities has become more important than ever. We know the buildings, apartments, food quality, staffing and, maybe most significant, the feel and culture.

Interestingly, now that we are on the road much less, we find we are able to have longer, more in-depth conversations with both clients and the communities that serve them. We spend a lot more time describing the options, acting as the eyes and ears for our clients who can’t experience it for themselves.

Change #2: COVID Protocols

Within the constraints dictated by the state, every community has its own set of rules regarding the pandemic. For example, on the question of new move-ins, some communities are still not allowing these. Among those that do, some require 14 days of quarantine upon move-in. Others require noquarantine, provided new residents receive a negative COVID test (sometimes two) within 72 hours prior to arrival. And these are just a few examples of what we’ve seen.

Yes, it’s all over the map! On top of all that, these protocols keep changing, based on infection within a given community and the Massachusetts guidelines overall.

All of this is causing a lot of confusion and many clients ask us how strict the protocols should be. The answer? It’s largely a matter of personal preference.

Just as some families want schools to open sooner than others, some families feel that a community is a safer option than staying at home with a revolving door of home care workers. Here, too, we counsel our clients in identifying which options they feel most comfortable with, as well as in knowing what things to ask (e.g., “If we move our mom in and a resident tests positive, what happens?”)

We also keep close track of protocol modifications and update them regularly within our database. Thankfully, here in Massachusetts, we have seen a progressive loosening of requirements over the past six months, as the infection rate among residents has been declining (but only time will tell how that evolves).

Change #3: Uncertainty and Doubt

Okay, this one has always been around. But today, with so many unknowns, families are doing more second-guessing of their senior care decisions than ever before.

I can say, however, that assisted living overall is getting a bad rap in the media regarding its relative safety. There may be a disproportionate number of COVID deaths there, but that’s where a disproportionate number of elders — who are most susceptible — live. The fact is, at 2Sisters, we have seen our assisted living and home care clients impacted equally.

I can’t think of a safer place to be right now than in a well-run community with strict infection-control protocols and consistent staffing. Most of these communities have always been well-versed in safety and hygiene protocols, even more so now that these issues are so pressing.

But moving a loved one, even under the best of circumstances, brings up a lot of emotion. I understand. Try to let yourself off the hook with the knowledge that you are doing the best you can with the information available.

Because The Right Decision Is An Informed One

Like I said, things are different. And while it’s not ideal, things won’t be this way forever.

Our tagline — “the right decision is an informed one” — has never been more true. With so many changes and so much uncertainty, the best any of us can do in caring for an older adult is to do our research, consult with experts, and plan as best we can.

As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”

We are committed to being here through it all, helping our clients make the best choices possible, pandemic or no pandemic.

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