For the senior living community, transparent and frequent communication between staff, residents, and their families has always been valuable. This value skyrocketed, however, with the emergence of the COVID-19 virus, as many senior living facilities were forced to close their doors. With open contact between residents and family members no longer a possibility, a line of communication literally became a lifeline.
Staff at senior living communities are considered essential workers, and COVID-19 expanded their already significant volume of work. The unique restrictions of the pandemic created almost-daily changes in compliance measures and limited worker numbers due to health measures and/or mandated quarantines. Coupled with continued surges of the virus, these changes have threatened to overload an already burdened population.
In many states, The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) require facilities to communicate a positive test or cluster of cases to all parties (staff, resident, family, volunteers, community vendors) within a specified timeframe, sometimes as quickly as 5pm the following day. With essential workers already completing extra pandemic-related tasks, these phone calls and emails would require a significant portion of their focus and time, preferably spent on the physical and mental well-being of residents. LifeLoop has bridged that gap for several of these communities.
Vivage Senior Living, a collection of thirty two communities with corporate offices in Denver, adopted LifeLoop in May after Regional Director of Operations Kim Watson realized the inefficiency of the virtual town halls staff were organizing. Because these meetings with family members required hours of preparation, technical setup, and staff follow-up, she decided to adopt a centralized communication tool and contacted LifeLoop.
“There has never been a rollout that has gone so smoothly,” she said. “We literally went from signing a contract to using the platform in two weeks’ time. The people at LifeLoop understood our urgency, and they responded.”
Prior to the pandemic, communication for Kim’s communities operated on an individualized basis, with quarterly conferences between staff and a resident’s family members. Though they signed on with LifeLoop out of a need, she envisions an important role for the platform in the future of her facilities.
For Fieldstone Memory Care in Marysville, WA, pre-COVID communication was a weekly email newsletter that notified families of new staff members, community openings, and special events. In addition to using the platform for clear communication regarding the virus, Executive Director Wayne Purdom also found frequent, non-pandemic related contact between residents and their families to be extremely beneficial.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, families were anxious because they couldn’t come to see their loved ones. We ramped up our picture posting with LifeLoop so families could visually verify that their residents were happy,” he said.
With more than fifteen years in the industry, Wayne emphasized the importance of families being able to “inspect what they expect” from senior living communities, which is of particular relevance during a pandemic. LifeLoop’s communication and picture-sharing features created meaningful engagement and reduced the anxiety of family members struggling to cope with restricted visitation. Even during stretches when window visits were not possible, the significant increase in picture-sharing created peace for families and indirectly impacted the well-being and function of residents.
Wayne also uses LifeLoop to track the mental health of his residents, something that has grown in importance with pandemic-related lockdowns. The risks associated with isolation are felt by every generation, but most particularly by the elderly, who face this issue even in times of global health. When there is a decline in a resident’s activity data and/or communication to family members, he knows to alert care workers and prioritize life enrichment practices.
“Older adults with dementia, they can’t communicate their needs. I want to be an advocate for them,” he said. The various features of LifeLoop have helped him advocate effectively.
Looking toward the future, both Wayne and Kim said that their industry and the assumptions of family members are morphing with COVID-19. They expect that when the dust settles, the senior living sector will be substantially altered.
“Regardless of how the pandemic ends, family members of residents will anticipate more high-level communication from the staff and the communities,” Wayne said. “Even when visitation becomes available again, people will have an expectation going forward.”
Both believe that platforms like LifeLoop will become fundamental components of senior living communities.
“As an industry, we are generally late adopters of new technologies,” said Kim. “But I think the COVID-19 pandemic has stressed us into looking into how technology can help us communicate better, and in my opinion, there is no going back.”