WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the nation continues to wrestle with the COVID-19 pandemic, and with states relaxing restrictions, seniors housing operators are responding with strategies to minimize both COVID-19 transmission risk and the risks of poor health outcomes resulting from isolation.
This is according to a special issue brief report from the American Seniors Housing Association (ASHA) entitled “Considerations for Balancing Seniors Housing Residents’ Safety As Communities Reopen: A Strategic Approach to the COVID-19 Pandemic.” In the report, research and advisory services firm ATI Advisory and its CEO Anne Tumlinson present the results of case studies and interviews across the industry that reveal how seniors housing operators are gradually restoring resident engagement, allowing non-essential visitors and enabling new move-ins while taking a strategic public health approach to balance multiple competing priorities and risks.
“There is no easy answer for when and how much to loosen highly restrictive protocols, especially when residents, staff, families and states often have differing opinions about risk tolerance and desire for safety,” says Tumlinson. “However, given that long-term isolation poses grave risks to residents as well, the industry is moving ahead proactively to prepare for and manage COVID-19 transmission risk in a long-term, non-zero-risk environment.”
With safety as the overriding priority of efforts to date, operators have relied on quarantine-like protocols — strict visitor restrictions and minimal resident interaction with staff and other residents. Operators recognize, however, that these protocols, prolonged over time, may pose a different set of risks to residents. Isolation, lack of engagement, and loneliness can contribute to functional and cognitive decline, as well as depression and anxiety.
“Now operators must manage a new challenge — a long period of risk management through which they cannot rely solely on safety-first strategies without impacting resident well-being,” says David Schless, president of ASHA. “Seniors housing operators are moving forward with carefully constructed, strategic and proactive plans to balance these demands and meet the individual needs of residents.”