If ever there was a year that “Caring is Essential,” it is 2020. Indeed, the theme of this year’s National Assisted Living Week (with an emphasis on the AL in essential), which began Sunday, is very appropriate.

When announcing the theme back in June, the sponsoring organization, the National Center for Assisted Living, said the week “highlights the incredible care provided by essential caregivers in assisted living communities across the country.”

“With many friends and family still unable to enter the buildings due to COVID, caregivers in assisted living communities are playing an even more critical role to residents,” NCAL Executive Director Scott Tittle said Sunday. “This National Assisted Living Week, in addition to the hundreds of thousands of heroes working in assisted living today, we must recognize the special relationships residents have with staff and how those bonds enrich everyone’s lives.”

NCAL began the observance in 1995, and every year, the start of the week coincides with Grandparents’ Day.

NCAL told me that this year’s theme was chosen in May, well into the outbreak.

“The NCAL team chooses the theme each year, taking into consideration the priorities and thoughts of NCAL members,” the organization said. “This year, COVID-19 has been an enormous, unforeseen challenge that has resulted in every person working in long-term care to step up and go above and beyond the call of duty.”

That includes coming up with new ways to celebrate National Assisted Living Week.

In 2020, NCAL said, given the restrictions in place in most states, assisted living providers are using an infection control and prevention mindset to help devise different ways to keep residents connected during the week. Some plans include family drive-by parades, live outdoor performances and hallway games, according to the organization.

“Some communities are planning to use technology and online offerings, whether it is exploring a world-famous museum, viewing live feeds of zoos or natural wonders, or re-visiting a favorite destination,” NCAL said. “Communities will also continue to combat social isolation among residents by facilitating connections with their families and loved ones via outdoor or window visits (depending on state guidelines) or talking over video chat.”

Providers also are encouraging loved ones and members of the community to write notes or upload drawings and video messages of support and love for residents and messages of gratitude for staff, NCAL said.

Thanks for all you do. If your community is marking National Assisted Living Week and posting photos to social media, be sure to use the hashtag #NALW so everyone can share in this special celebration during this unusual time.