Colin Milner, left, and Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., will co-chair the new ICAA COVID-19 Senior Living Task Force.

Representatives of more than 140 senior housing and care operators and members of four associations advocating for U.S. providers are joining forces with other groups in a new effort to provide guidance for safely reopening U.S. and Canadian communities and facilities given COVID-19 considerations. 

Participants in the International Council on Active Aging’s COVID-19 Senior Living Task Force include representatives of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations offering affordable seniors housing buildings; active adult, independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement / life plan communities; and skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities. Among participating associations are AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, the American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum, LeadingAge, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, the National Council on Aging and the American Society on Aging.

The group, formally announced today, aims to have guidance ready by late June to mid-July.

Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based ICAA, a professional association that supports those who aspire to develop wellness cultures for adults aged more than 50 years, conceived the initiative. He will co-chair the task force with psychologist and gerontologist Ken Dychtwald, Ph.D., author and founder and CEO of Age Wave, which provides thought leadership on issues related to the aging population.

Looking forward

Members of the group will determine its direction, Milner told McKnight’s Senior Living. “My vision is that we’re looking at how we move forward as opposed to focusing on all of the things that we are right now, in a lockdown-panic mode,” he said.

For Milner, it’s personal. His 87-year-old mother and 108-year-old grandmother are residents of a senior living community in Vancouver.

“I kept asking them what their plan was moving forward, and they didn’t have a plan,” he said. “So in my mind, the bells went off, and I said, ‘But what about everybody else? What are people planning?’ And then I started having a lot of conversations and realized that, as people are planning how they move forward, so many are still in the reactionary phase.”

When they have been approached about the idea of a task force, people have been “highly engaged,” Milner said. “What’s exciting to me is that there isn’t anyone who has turned around and said, ‘You know, this is a bad idea. We don’t want to be involved.’ Everybody who has been invited has basically said, ‘How can I help?’ ”

Participating organizations include many familiar names. Milner said he is waiting to hear from a few additional organizations and that a few spots remain for others who can bring different expertise (here is his contact information). “We want this to be as inclusive as possible,” he said.

Meetings later this month

Task force members will meet virtually in two different groups May 27 and May 28 to discuss issues such as social distancing and its effects on the built environment, infrastructure needs and engagement.

“We’ve asked people what their concerns are. We will accumulate those concerns and bring those to the forefront to help drive the conversation in the areas that we need to focus on,” Milner said, adding that additional topics may arise during the meeting.

The guidance may be adaptable to future events as well, he said.

“The tough discussions need to come up,” Milner said. “For instance, staffing. How are you going to handle staffing? Part-time? Full time? How are you going to keep your staff safe? How are you going to ensure that they or anyone else coming into the community isn’t actually bringing in some form of disease with them, whether it is COVID-19 or something else in the future. What actions do you have to take?”

A pandemic brings to mind small and large issues, he said. Among those issues, he added, are addressing falls, CPR, visitor policies, and spaces such as wellness and therapy rooms, spas and cafes.

The task force’s charge is not to dictate, Milner said, but to create guidance that operators can use to make decisions based on the sector of the industry and country and state or province in which they operate.

After the May 27 and 28 meetings, he said, a team will compile the comments made and send them out for review. “We’ll probably have one or two iterations of that,” with the goal of a quick-moving process and guidelines ready by late June to mid-July, Milner said.