Not long ago, we were hearing a lot about the predicted “second wave” of COVID-19. But there has been no second wave. It’s actually been more like a tsunami — it just keeps coming! As effects of the first wave continue and gain momentum, the pandemic continues to greatly affect the lives of millions of older adults living at home or in senior living communities across the country.
Just as back in March when we realized that the normal flu protocols were not going to cut it, we again are reminded that we’re dealing with a virus with longer-lasting implications on resident life and caregiver resources. Although communities have done a tremendous job identifying and deploying entirely new initiatives to manage the situation, now it’s time to shift focus to solutions that will not just aid in getting by for a few months, but rather those to make us successful during this pandemic or any other crisis we may face going forward. I call it “acting tactically but thinking strategically.”
Key to this approach forward is developing and building a “connected community.” Made up of both human and technology elements, a connected community enables senior living operators to integrated disparate technologies and unite their key stakeholders — setting up avenues for wellness and engagement, channels for important communication and networks to link everyone from residents, to staff, to family members and even and service providers.
The human component is a powerful part and cannot be forgotten in this rush to technology. It involves the sense or feeling of connectedness among members, where residents are engaged with their community and with each other and their families. This also is extending the connectivity to caregiver team members, integrating them with other providers and vendors, giving them the ability to reach a variety of groups with different messages or programs, quickly and at scale.
A truly connected community addresses the unique needs of each stakeholder but does so in the most efficient way. The digital component can make this far easier; in fact, it is almost impossible in today’s world to do without. Of course, having the right Wi-Fi infrastructure for connectivity in all areas of a building or campus is foundational. Also, developing a multi-channel strategy for communication to all types of residents, no matter the acuity or technical ability, and providing tools and devices that integrate across the community structure.
COVID-19 has elevated telehealth to new value and importance. Having the digital infrastructure in place to connect vulnerable residents with the medical and mental health providers while remaining in the safety of their home truly has been a lifesaver. As more services move to this tele format, collecting and sharing vital signs, social behavior patterns or other assessment data will be key to supporting resident wellness and well-being.
With the added complications of COVID-19, community staff members will thrive if given solutions that eliminate manual tasks and free up time for more meaningful work. A myriad of digital tools is available, but the key is identifying enterprise solutions that provide immediate value while also knowing how all these new technologies can work together. Enterprise solutions bring unmatched security and quality to communities without placing the burden of managing or supporting them on the community staff.
Options now quickly gaining traction are mobile or desktop apps for community-wide information-sharing and communication, social features, or concierge services such as meal ordering or grocery delivery. Use of the community TV channel (content-insertion) to share important community information, on-demand or live content, activities, or entertainment during quarantine periods is a medium that also has recently exploded. This will continue to grow as more content is created both by communities and external content providers.
The abundance of voice-enabled assistants such as Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant also is leveling the playing field by making technology accessible to residents in all levels of care. Whether assisting with reminders, calling the front desk or other residents, asking for daily weather information, or providing entertainment, these devices are bringing more connection to many who once were intimated by devices or by physical challenges. Although largely seen as a resident amenity, voice technologies also give staff members diversified ways of reaching or engaging with the entire campus in a near-instant and easy-access format.
Enhanced communication and information-sharing
It’s no surprise that bolstering communications channels and practices is a key part of a more connected community. Informational hotlines such as those we’ve released for communities during COVID with the help of our partner, Bandwidth, are a timely version of a traditional idea. In this case, it’s something senior living communities can benefit from immediately. K4Community Hotlines currently are averaging more than 280 calls a day and include multiple lines where families, residents and vendors can access the latest information 24/7.
Video calling for residents to stay connected with family members is another rising solution. Seeing the faces of other residents or a loved one as visitation restrictions continue at least in some areas is a powerful way to give residents hope and reduce loneliness. Communities have several options through native social media platforms such as Facebook and FaceTime via Apple products, as well as senior living technology providers who provide a wide array of enterprise services.
The connected community entails much, much more, but digital communication channels and connectivity between all community members is a critical and essential starting point. As a recent study from Miami University’s Scripps Gerontology Center revealed, timely and targeted communication has a clear effect on the positive perceptions of a community. With COVID-19 showing no signs of stopping, community operators need solutions that can provide relief today while providing continuing value beyond this crisis.
F. Scott Moody is the CEO, co-founder and chief member advocate of K4Connect, a mission-driven technology company that integrates the best in technology to serve and empower older adults and individuals living with disabilities, together with the people, communities and organizations that also serve them.