For most of us, the last month of the year is a time that focuses our attention on gifts both material and spiritual, given and received.
This year, many of us will focus less on gifting and more on gathering in hopes of regaining our sense of normalcy, our peace of mind.
There’s a reason we turn to peace during the holidays. Christian scholars believe the mission of Christ was to bring peace to the world. In the Jewish faith, peace is something humans are enjoined to aspire to, not only during the holidays, but year-round.
Peace is something we hope to find at the end of a quarrel. At the end of a conflict. At the end of an illness. At the end of the day.
Today, the road to recovery — from pandemic to peace — has been fraught with fear fueled by uncertainty and unknowns. Fear incited by dividing opinions, beliefs and politics. And fear spread by the media, which initially blamed congregate care settings as culprits for the spread of infectious disease.
Seemingly overnight, the organizational protocols that govern long-term care communities were inspected and reinvented. Even so, many aspects have not changed. For example, our ability to quickly adapt to meet the changing needs of our residents and staff. Our agility to adopt and implement Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines and the latest medical research. Our unwavering commitment to protect the well-being of our residents. All to rededicate ourselves to the goal of providing our families greater peace of mind.
Senior living is designed to preserve and protect the health and wellness of older adults and keep them safe. Although the rest of the world grows accustomed to this mindset and mission, we simply are doing more of what we’ve always done. Namely, whatever we can to help older adults thrive.
In spite of the pandemic, thriving has meant finding ways for adults to connect with each other and live meaningful lives filled with purpose, friendship and joy. Collectively, as an industry, thriving demanded that we prevent COVID-19 from entering our communities and containing spread in the event it did. We tested, we disinfected, we donned personal protective equipment, we distanced, we zoomed, we innovated and we improved the lives of our residents even as fear caused some to transition to a shut-in existence at home. Why? More than any industry you could name — grocery stores, retailers, restaurants, gas stations, airlines, schools and child care, colleges and universities, places of worship — and with higher frequency and urgency, we prioritize the health and wellness of older adults.
Unlike many other business sectors, we have and have had infection prevention and control plans and policies to ensure the protection of our residents, while outside our doors, chaos and fear ruled.
We are conditioned to operating in a way that makes senior wellness the first priority, all day every day. Long before the pandemic, we prepared for and prevented influenza. We prepared for emergencies and extreme weather events, and we made plans, policies, and protocols to mitigate and minimize risk. Beyond our boundaries, risk prevailed.
Assisted living communities were among the first to provide vaccination clinics and now, booster clinics. The first to implement cleaning and disinfection standards in response to airborne transmission.
When visitation was restricted, we erected outdoor visitation tents and instituted window and porch visits. When visitation was permitted, we enforced symptom screening, as well as proactive and routine testing.
Amid the world’s chaos, we built new layers of protection, constantly updating our families on the latest recommendations and policies. All to instill and restore peace of mind.
Then came the gift of the vaccine. With more than 90% vaccination participation in Sonata communities, we all feel the relief and joy that comes from having the freedom to connect with each other again without fear.
Along with peace of mind, senior living gives older adults purpose. When social restrictions were mandated, we responded with small group life enrichment activities to keep residents engaged. We delivered meals to our residents to maintain high nutritional standards. When speakers and entertainers were suddenly put on hold, we instead challenged residents to one-on-one hallway bowling matches and invited them to enjoy traveling ice cream carts and pop-up taco stands.
At Sonata as with some of our peer organizations, safety is much more than a promise we make to our residents. Our signature program, Sonata Safe, offers the reassurance our families need now and will continue to need to meet the demands of a changed world.
In practice, this translates not only to a responsibility to deliver the highest quality care, but to innovate in ways we have yet to imagine. From touchless technology and telemedicine to wearables and artificial intelligence, innovation has been accelerated by the pandemic at unprecedented rates. We assemble these gifts in new and beneficial ways to help our residents and families face the new dawn with confidence.
When we have a parent of advanced age, gifts have a special poignancy. We ask ourselves, what can we give them now, as an expression of our abiding love and a testament to the unique story we share that would have meaning for them during their remaining years?
This holiday season, there are few gifts more loving than the safety and security afforded by senior living. Senior living represents the gift of purpose along with protection from the buffeting of the world’s many unknowns. Most of all, it represents peace of mind for our elders and the adult children who love them.
Shelley Esden is chief operating officer of Sonata Senior Living and chair of the Florida Senior Living Association. She has steered 12 communities through pandemic-related challenges.
The opinions expressed in each McKnight’s Senior Living guest column are those of the author and are not necessarily those of McKnight’s Senior Living.
Have a column idea? See our submission guidelines here.