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With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., significant attention has been given to the impact on senior living facilities. In Minnesota, as of June 1, there were 1,050 deaths related to COVID-19. Of these, 608 (58%) were among skilled nursing facility patients, and 259 (25%) were residents of assisted living facilities. Across the country, reports of severe outbreaks of the infection in senior facilities are regular news.
How is this playing out on the front lines? According to Jennifer Thorson, Executive Director at The Harbors Senior Living Community in Fridley, Minnesota, the pandemic pushed her facility to the limit when it first hit. “We had absolutely no choice but to get on top of this to make sure that we had all the proper procedures in place and be in constant contact with the MN Department of Health for their guidance. Being in a smaller facility such as the Harbors, only having apartments, we were able to control it into one wing of the building and assign a single care provider to take care of those residents who tested positive, limiting the spread even more.”
The Harbors, an assisted living and memory care facility with 25 apartments, ultimately had six residents and three staff test positive for the COVID-19 virus with one resident death. Currently, with a bi-weekly testing process in place, no further residents or staff have since tested positive.
Due to the action by The Harbors, the infection spread was contained. Even so, the situation has been stressful for the residents. According to Thorson, “They were all extremely scared, but we were able to control it and stay on top of it. We’ve been talking to families. I would send out a letter once a week, regardless of whether we had any updated information, then, of course, would reach out immediately if we did have any new information.”
What Does This Mean for Someone Considering a Move?
The quick response and ongoing communication did the job. There were no move outs due to the pandemic. Yet, what is the message to seniors and their families considering a move into a senior facility?
Thorson says it is safer than what is portrayed in the media, “As long as the community has it under control, that they have policies and procedures set in place, and they're taking all of the precautions. For staff, this means self-quarantining at home if they show symptoms or test positive.”
Also, prospective residents and their families need to weigh the risks of living at home versus a senior living facility. According to Thorson, “It is still a risky move to keep your loved one at home. If you were already looking for senior living or memory care for them before this happened, keeping them back [home] isn’t going to keep them any safer. It's also going to cause more [caregiver] burn out, and if you’re planning to get home health care instead, it will almost be quadruple what you would pay for assisted living.”
The COVID-19 pandemic will continue to be a severe issue for senior living until an effective vaccine is developed and distributed. Until that time, seniors and their families will need to do extra due diligence to determine if the senior facilities they are considering are executing effective infection control. Getting the facts in this area may well determine which facilities are reasonable to consider and those to pass by.