“There will be some new heroes before this is all over,” wrote Michel Augsburger, chairman and CEO at Chancellor Health Care, LLC.
He’s correct. There are too many heroes to name, even as of early May, when this is being written.
Even on a normal day, people in this industry go above and beyond. During the coronavirus pandemic, people throughout senior living gave even more. Direct care workers took risks even coming to work—but they learned to “smile with their eyes” and lift spirits.
Senior living communities made food for care staff, first responders, other senior living communities that needed help, cards for children, and more. Neighbors and local organizations did the same right back.
There has been a continual and heartening outpouring of strength and good will—and it’s not over yet. Here are just a few examples from this extraordinary time.
Millions of masks
As it became clear that people in all roles in senior living as well as residents themselves would need protective face coverings—and as it became clear that there weren’t enough readily available—senior living residents, staff, and community volunteers got to work. Instructions started making the rounds, provided by several hospitals and health care organizations.
Volunteers at kitchen tables and couture companies alike worked into the night, skillfully sewing bandanas, remnants, and scraps left from Christmas tablecloths and baby quilts into face masks, adding materials like coffee filters, hair ties, and floral wire to try to increase the comfort and protection level.
Danit McBride, vice president of administration and corporate secretary at Chancellor Health Care, LLC, was one of these who jumped in early to the effort. She found an easy-to-follow tutorial, helped source fabric, and ordered quantities of the best elastic and overnighted it to volunteers.
Mask-makers learned to use two different fabric designs for each mask, so users could tell the which side had been exposed, and to use muted and skin-tone colors for some masks to be easier on those with reduced cognitive or visual acuity.
As McBride worked from home, sending emails, she could hear her nephew giving lessons to her son and daughter on how to make the masks. “The outpouring of generosity has truly touched me,” she writes. “I believe it gives people, especially kids, a sense of purpose and control that they can make a difference in this otherwise tenuous moment in time.”
“We employ 891 heroes” in Chancellor’s 16 communities, McBride writes. As of late March, she adds, “56 talented souls are making cloth face masks for our communities. Eighteen are members of the churches our staff attend, 15 are family members of current or former residents, eight are family or friends of current staff, nine are from the community, five are current or former staff members, and one is a regular entertainer at a community.”
While cloth face masks may not be as effective as N95 respirators, she notes, they help, and “health care workers appreciate these masks more than anyone will ever know.”
Safe helping hands
Senior living communities have a special relationship with first responders, who stand prepared to help residents safe in all kinds of emergencies. But with this situation, the first responders needed help, too. Communities all over the nation collected and helped serve meals and donated treats and masks.
When Vantage Point Retirement Living and its communities heard first responders and volunteers were in need of infection control products to stay safe, it began sourcing, assembling, and delivering COVID Care Kits. The kits included surface disinfectant, hand sanitizer, other infection control including Betadine and hydrogen peroxide, and vitamin C supplements.
The kits were delivered throughout Vantage Point’s community areas in Delaware and Pennsylvania, including Delaware State Police, Middletown Police Department, and Pottstown Meals on Wheels.
“It is our mission to continue to support the greater community in this time,” Vantage Point said in a statement. “If this crisis teaches us anything, we hope it teaches us all to remember that we are all one community and one family.
“We continue to be inspired by stories both big and small of the acts of heroism from healthcare workers to the small acts of kindness people are showing to their neighbors.”
Distilling hand sanitizer
In Florida, senior living providers helped out by keeping the wheels of commerce turning and keeping people working. With hand-sanitizer shortages, many distilleries and breweries switched over to making alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
St. Petersburg Distillery in Florida was one of these manufacturing hand sanitizer during the crisis, putting laid-off bartenders and waitstaff to work in its plant.
In addition to donating sanitizer, the company is selling sanitizer to private-pay providers. It’s a triple win: Providers get the product they need from local vendors, the business stays alive, and displaced workers get jobs.
It started in Chicago: A group of employees at JLL Americas Property Management, which supplies real estate services to the senior living market, came up with an idea to help health care workers.
They partnered with CaterCares program, ordering 300 individually wrapped meals for health care providers at AMITA Health Resurrection Medical Center and Advocate Christ Medical Center in Chicago. It was good for the health care workers, and good for the local restaurants.
“The team wanted to say, ‘thank you’ to these brave healthcare providers, and found a brilliant way to leverage CaterCares to help benefit many,” said Jay Koster, Group Head, Capital Markets and Investor Services, Americas.
Then more people wanted to help. So JLL launched the FeedingHeroes program—people can donate funds, and JLL and takes care of the rest. The company has spread out beyond Chicago, to serve hospitals in more than 10 cities, from Seattle to Boston to New Orleans.
“Operators all over the country are working tirelessly to keep their residents and staff safe. We want to show our support and gratitude by helping to feed those seniors housing heroes,” said Zach Rigby, Director, JLL Capital Markets.
In addition, JLL worked with Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to help stand up an alternate medical facility in Chicago’s McCormick Place Convention Center. JLL hired local minority- and women-owned businesses to provide facility maintenance, security, cleaning, waste removal, and more for the critical patient overflow site.
Seniors helping seniors
Seniors themselves are some of the most enthusiastic volunteers and the first to help out others. That was the story behind donations to food donations to affordable senior living communities in Northern California.
A unique partnership with Sequoia Living, Senior Services for Northern California, and Morrison Living helps 550 low-income seniors in San Francisco and San Jose get a free box of healthy groceries each week, for as long as the shelter-in-place order lasts.
The Morrison Living team procured the groceries; and two of Sequoia Living’s continuing care retirement communities, The Sequoias San Francisco and The Sequoias Portola Valley, volunteered to pack the groceries into boxes; and Sequoia Living’s affordable housing employees distributed the groceries to their residents.
Voluntary donations from Sequoia Living residents, families, vendors, board members, and staff and donations of labor from Morrison Living made it work.
“When the shelter-in-place order first came through, I had been to the grocery store that day and knew how difficult it was for me,” said Shawn Leary, regional vice president of Morrison Living.
“After a group of us at Morrison decided we wanted to help bring food to vulnerable seniors, I reached out to Sequoia Living. They were thrilled with the idea, and we all worked together to make it happen.”
“It is inspiring to see our residents, staff members, and vendors supporting one another in such an innovative and creative way during these difficult times,” said Sara McVey, president and CEO of Sequoia Living.
Making vital connections
With the restrictions of visiting brought by the pandemic, technology wasn’t optional—it was critical.
Residents and their families and loved ones needed not only to talk but to see each other. And despite the creativity and efforts of activities leaders, days in isolation could feel very long.
Many senior living tech companies came to the rescue, donating free use of platforms and devices to ensure residents could stay in touch and stay engaged through the crisis. Their online travel and museum tours, learning, conversations, and games have made an ongoing positive contribution to health and well-being.
Among them was iN2L, which quickly adapted its tablet technology to include a “quick-start” video chat tool. “To solve this challenge for our senior living customers as quickly as possible, we partnered with an existing video chat provider for the core capability and integrated it seamlessly into the iN2L solution, to make the user experience as easy and as senior-friendly as possible,” says Lisa Taylor, CEO.
With one tap, users can talk to up to seven people simultaneously in a video chat session.
The Alzheimer’s Association had been working with the state of Florida to get a simpler video chat solution appropriate to people with dementia and chose iN2L as its partner. The initiative has delivered tablets to 150 senior living communities in the state.
“Both the Alzheimer’s Association and the State of Florida’s Department of Elder Affairs have been terrific to work with and have moved so quickly. Within three weeks, we were on board and moving quickly to deliver the first round of tablets to Florida communities,” says Taylor.
Other tech companies are offering free use of software or information access for providers to help them during this time. Arena and OnShift have partnered with Argentum for FastMatch, a Senior Living Works program that helps match displaced workers with jobs in senior living; as part of this, Arena is offering no-cost access to its software through September 30.
Another such free use for the duration is offered by Medtelligent, which provides the ALIS software for a private social sharing feed, tracking of health profile information, and bill payment.
“We’ve seen an uptick in demand for ALIS Connect among our existing customers as communities work to keep families up-to-date about what’s going on ‘in the building’,” said John Shafaee, CEO.
“At the same time, staff is burdened by new routines and processes. If that saves a few minutes or hours of a nurse or community engagement manager’s time, we think that’s a meaningful contribution.”