Lois Bowers headshot

Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is challenging senior living operators in new and numerous ways. Companies are finding ways to help their peer organizations and let their workers know how much they are valued during these unprecedented times, however.

For instance, Bloomfield, NJ-based Juniper Communities and Westlake Village, CA-based real estate investment trust LTC Properties on Sunday announced a new crowd-sourced activities website with free resources for residents and their families, activity directors and caregivers. It can be accessed on smart devices, which increasingly are being used to make the best of no-visitor and social distancing policies.

“We’re trying to be giving to the industry in a lot of ways,” Juniper Communities founder and CEO Lynne Katzmann, Ph.D., told me. The platform had a soft launch on Thursday to “get the kinks out,” she said.

“Lynne’s idea of creating a virtual programming portal is a great example of people coming together for the better good, and we are proud to help serve the industry in this practical way,” LTC Properties CEO and President Wendy Simpson said in the announcement.

Virtual Connections (SLvirtual.com) is now home to hundreds of activities, games, reading materials, exercise videos, downloadable and digital arts, coloring and entertainment, as well as a variety of sporting events, live webcams of zoos and aquariums, and spiritual, meditation and well-being resources. Users are encouraged to submit new resources, suggestions for content and requests for additional resources.

Caregiver recognition in the greater community

In Michigan, the UMRC Foundation and Porter Hills Foundation have created an emergency fund for frontline staff members who are working to support older adults in United Methodist Retirement Communities and Porter Hills communities.

“As we strive to protect the health and wellbeing of the older adults we serve, we can’t afford to forget the dedicated, compassionate team members who are working hard in our communities each and every day,” said Wendy Brightman, president of the foundations.

The “COVID-19 – Not All Heroes Wear Capes” initiative already has raised an anonymous gift of $250,000 in matching support to incentivize other local contributions.

Additionally, the UMRC and Porter Hills organization already has committed operating dollars to expanding the paid time-off programs — including additional pay and supplemental sick bank time for use during COVID-19 — as well as food pantries at all locations, babysitting services and more. The organization also has begun an effort to have the greater community show their appreciation for caregivers by displaying a white ribbon outside their homes or placing an image of a white ribbon in their front windows (there’s even a template for those who’d like one).

In western Pennsylvania, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network is asking members of the greater community to deliver some “rays of sunshine” during the pandemic by sending notes and videos to residents, patients and employees via the mail or the organization’s Facebook page.

“We know that parents are looking for projects to keep their children busy while they are home from school,” Presbyterian SeniorCare Network President and CEO Paul Winkler said. “This project teaches about acts of kindness and bringing joy to others.”

The organization’s medical director gave the clearance that mail could be received, he said, and precautions will be followed when the greetings are shared. Visit https://www.srcare.org/raysofsunshine for details.

Food pantry, child care center benefit caregivers

In suburban Chicago, Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care has launched a food pantry initiative to support employees. The effort aims to provide each staff member with a bag of groceries every Wednesday during the COVID-19 crisis.

“We are so grateful for our incredible team, who are working harder than ever to ensure the safety and health of each of our residents at Caledonia Senior Living & Memory Care,” said Gus Noble, president of the Chicago Scots, which supports the campus.

The organization is seeking donations of non-perishable pre-packaged food, personal care items and cleaning supplies. Those wishing to learn more can send a message to [email protected].

In Arkansas, Methodist Village Senior Living life plan community has begun an emergency child care center to support the 250 healthcare professionals who work there, many of whom have young children at home now due to school and / or daycare being closed.

“We were able to work with [the Department of Human Services] and expedite the process to retain an emergency license for child care,” MVSL CEO Melissa Curry said.

The center was set up in a stand-alone apartment complex that formerly was used for independent living and was scheduled to be torn down to allow for additional renovations to the campus. A fence was added to the front of the building so the children will be able to run and play outside when weather permits. Members of the greater community donated items to stock the center, and to staff the center, MVSL was able to hire three experienced child care professionals who recently had been laid off due to businesses being closed due to the virus.

New ad campaign seeks to draw awareness, support caregiver efforts

A Place for Mom today is launching a new advertising campaign to raise awareness of the efforts of all senior caregivers in keeping older adults safe and to send the message that senior living communities are a strong extension of the country’s national healthcare network. View the “On this Day” ad here.

Additionally, APFM is joining the communities in its network in asking for the government, suppliers and other industry stakeholders to help senior living communities acquire the tests, supplies and other resources they need to continue to keep residents safe. In a recent survey, less than 10% of the 17,000 senior living communities in APFM’s network reported that they are closed to new residents, yet only 250 of them are currently capable of testing for COVID-19 onsite, APFM said.