As the senior living industry looks for ways to safely emerge from COVID-19, the International Council on Active Aging brought together 154 thought leaders to create strategies for all segments of the industry to emerge from lockdown.

ICAA final report cover

“Creating a path towards the next normal in senior living” is the resulting white paper containing 35 strategies and tactics to maintain safety and reinvigorate lifestyles for older adults in senior living communities. It is the final report from a process that began in May by identifying overriding themes, developing key strategies and breaking down implementation tactics.

“The leadership and staff in all types of senior housing — active adult, independent living, assisted living, memory care and skilled nursing — immediately took action to protect the health of their residents when the pandemic appeared and sprang into action to deliver meals, meaningful activities and programs to keep everyone connected to family and friends,” said Colin Milner, founder and CEO of the Vancouver, British Columbia-based ICAA, a professional association that supports wellness cultures for older adults. “Yet we realized that the future for older adults and senior living organizations depends on keeping residents safe today while envisioning tomorrow’s safe home, services and lifestyle amenities.”

The coronavirus pandemic has presented the industry with a rare opportunity to re-evaluate senior living, according to the ICAA. Now that the initial phase of the pandemic is over, leaders, funders, investors, residents and families are looking to the future — what will life in a senior living community look like next year? In three years? In 10 years?

The ICAA COVID-19 Senior Living Task Force identified six strategic areas (whittled down from an initial 900) to frame the “next normal” of senior living — to optimize the health and wellness of residents and staff and develop a new value proposition for senior living. That led to six strategies to apply to any type of organization:

  • Designing, redesigning and/or renovating building interiors and exteriors to allow for social distancing.
  • Developing purpose-driven, caring, passionate staff.
  • Providing technology to increase connections, aid efficiency and optimize health.
  • Developing a culture of positive aging, framed by wellness, to counteract stereotypical attitudes toward older adults.
  • Establishing trust by being prepared to respond to emergencies and unexpected events.
  • Updating perceptions about the differences in senior living properties to reinforce the new value proposition of each type of senior living.

Each strategy includes a set of tasks and tactics to help organizations now and down the road. Milner said every community will be at a different starting point on the spectrum depending on its COVID-19 experience and any strategic implementation that already has occurred.

“When we were doing all of this, there was a great deal of optimism in the midst of all of this negativity, which was quite refreshing,” Milner told McKnight’s Senior Living, adding that the next step is implementation. “Our goal is to start to reach out and get it out there. None of this matters if it doesn’t get out there.”

Task force participants included representatives of for-profit and not-for-profit organizations offering affordable seniors housing; active adult, independent living, assisted living, memory care and continuing care retirement / life plan communities; and skilled nursing and rehabilitation facilities. Among participating associations were AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, the American Seniors Housing Association, Argentum and LeadingAge.

“Quality of life — the feelings of safety, well-being and comfort — is the reason why older adults choose to reside in senior housing,” the report states. “The ability to effectively balance safety with opportunity will define the communities that continue to feature the best possible home for the aging population.”

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