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Inside Assisted Living During a Pandemic:  What No One Is Telling You About Senior Care in Difficult Times

The TV news flashes across the screen and you look away from yet another report showing the sad faces of elderly residents as they touch hands with a family member through a window.  Suspicions abound as folks complain about not being able to visit in person with their loved ones, and hearing too little about their care.  These unfortunate scenes, along with reports of rising death tolls, have been the portrayal of senior care homes across the nation during a pandemic.  However, these scenes are far from the whole story.  There’s more to tell about what really goes on in assisted living during a widespread health crisis.  Here’s what is happening behind the scenes at St. Francis Villa Assisted Living:

Residents are eating like kings and queens.  Nutritious meals are being delivered to the apartments of assisted living residents three times every day, while seniors alone at home are struggling to figure out how to get to the store and how to cobble together their meals.  Family members of our residents have not needed to worry about how they will shop for or deliver food to their elderly loved ones.  Sons and daughters on the front lines have been able to serve the public without concern for how their elderly parents in assisted living will be fed.  

Residents have daily interaction with people who care about them.  Many seniors in their homes alone are going weeks on end without any human contact.  Even when assisted living residents are quarantined to their apartments, caring individuals are there to provide help, offer encouragement, and continue the daily routines assisted living residents value and need.  The pain of missing family members is eased a little by the knowledge that someone who cares will always be there to answer a call for help.

Residents are getting to see their doctors.  At St. Francis Villa, I watched in awe as a 100 year old man experienced his first virtual doctor’s visit.  Imagine his fascination as he peered into the screen and said “Is that you, Annie??”  (When you’re 100, you can call your doctor by her first name!)  Using the equipment we have, assisted living homes have been able to help their residents stay in contact with their doctors and get the care they need.  We’ve facilitated virtual visits for residents who need them, and provided protective gear and transportation for residents who needed in-person visits.  While seniors across the country have gone without the medical care they need, our residents are, one way or another, getting to contact their medical providers.

Residents are watched daily for symptoms.   Seniors alone at home may go days before anyone knows they are ill. Catching symptoms early has always been one of the hallmark benefits of assisted living, saving the lives of seniors time and again.  During this public health crisis, the daily watch for symptoms has taken on even more significance.  When seniors live alone, often dehydration, UTI, or swelling due to heart failure creeps up on them and nothing is done until they are at a crisis point.  Under the watchful eye of our care staff, assisted living residents have a more difficult time concealing or ignoring symptoms and action can be taken before too late.  We may not know until much later what a major impact the early recognition of symptoms has made on the survival rates of seniors in assisted living with COVID-19.

St. Francis Villa families have a whole team of people supporting them in the care of their elderly loved ones.  Though little else is reported in headlines, the daily life issues besides COVID have continued on.  Adult children still have to work, provide care for grandchildren, and address their own health issues.  COVID has done nothing but complicate even the simplest of activities we take for granted.  Everyone is struggling during this national crisis to get through their normal life issues in addition to handling all the extra obstacles brought about by the virus.  Coping with COVID has been an extreme challenge for families and assisted living staff alike, but neither have had to cope alone.  Working together, St. Francis Villa families and staff have loved our residents well through this unprecedented crisis.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought untold sorrows for the people of the world.  St. Francis Villa’s mission has always been to help alleviate sorrow and bring peace of mind.  The greater the intensity of the need, the greater the difference we can make, and COVID-19 is the perfect example of a time when assisted living can make all the difference.  Where there is great pain and tragedy, there are opportunities to do acts of service that bring hope and healing when they are most needed.  This hope and healing is the untold story behind the doors of St. Francis Villa Assisted Living and many others.  We are fighting this virus and its many secondary losses with the weapons we know best:  caring, compassion, dignity, companionship, laughter, and love.  

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