How Local Senior Care Communities Are Protecting Elderly Residents From Coronavirus Officials at senior living communities and elderly care facilities around the Washington region are ramping up sanitation efforts and other protocols to protect residents from coronavirus.
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NPR logo How Local Senior Care Communities Are Protecting Elderly Residents From Coronavirus

How Local Senior Care Communities Are Protecting Elderly Residents From Coronavirus

Jamie Carr, administrator in training, right, cleans the hands of residents before lunch at the South Shore Rehabilitation and Skilled Care Center, in Rockland, Mass. David Goldman/AP Photo hide caption

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David Goldman/AP Photo

Seriously, this cannot be said enough.

"Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands," says Chris Henderson, CEO of Pinnacle Living. The company owns and operates five retirement communities across Virginia.

The number of known coronavirus cases in D.C., Maryland and Virginia continues to grow. Most of the people infected are elderly. People age 60 and older are most susceptible to the disease and have a higher risk of dying of COVID-19, the illness caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). As people age, their immune systems begin to slow down and leave them unable to fend off some diseases. People with heart disease, lung disease and diabetes are also at a higher risk when it comes to the coronavirus.

The grim reality of the ever-growing spread of coronavirus has many who work in the senior care community looking at ways to keep people – both residents and staff – safe from infection and/or transmission of the disease.

Henderson says Pinnacle residents, staff and visitors are being encouraged to refrain from shaking hands, to cough into their elbows and avoid contact with people outside the community.

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"In Alexandria specifically, we are screening visitors as they come in the door. We're checking temperatures, [and] doing questionnaire work," Henderson says.

Senior care communities in D.C. and Maryland have implemented similar protocols. One group, Kensington Park Senior Living in Kensington, Maryland, has restricted access to the community to anyone deemed non-essential. That includes things like extracurricular activities for residents.

"So for example, the protocols that are in place now are any entertainers across campus, we no longer have had them come in," says Mary Mell, executive director of Kensington Park. "So, we've canceled all people that we can't really control coming into our community."

Mell says they've also canceled all off-campus outings they thought would put residents at risk. In other words, no outside entertainment for Kensington Park residents until further notice. A great move for the health of the community, but kind of a bummer.

"You have to recognize this is the highest risk population. So, [being] stringent is a good thing for this because you don't want to put them out in crowds of people they potentially could be infected by," says Mell.

Pinnacle Senior Living and other facilities are asking family members who are feeling ill or who have recently traveled abroad to refrain from in-person visits. Henderson says that can be difficult for seniors who might not see family very often. "But we are fortunate that we have some great technology at hand. Today's technology with iPads, phones and tablets and FaceTiming really will help us to deal with those issues."

Many seniors lack access to computers or smartphones, leaving them more vulnerable to the coronavirus as they may lack sufficient information on what they can do to prevent infection.

"We have been working to get information out to [those seniors] via hand delivery," said Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks at a press conference Tuesday announcing new cases of the coronavirus. "We've actually been taking around a fact sheet on the coronavirus. It has gone to all senior nutrition sites to be passed out. It's also being included with meal deliveries to homebound seniors this week."

The total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland, D.C. and Virginia changes almost daily. As of the time of Alsobrooks' announcement, the number of confirmed cases in Prince George's County was three.

Despite the sad thought of not getting to visit a loved one in-person, several senior living officials say they've heard positive feedback. Mell says they receive emails from residents and family members alike who say they are grateful to Kensington Park for protecting their loved ones. Other senior communities say they've received similar messages.

"Our families are very supportive and have been cooperating with the measures we've taken to safeguard our communities from the virus," says Julie Masiello, senior vice president of technology and marketing at Brightview Senior Living.

Henderson and Mell say none of their residents — around 1,200 at Pinnacle and a couple hundred at Kensington Park respectively — have reported signs of coronavirus. But the flu is still making rounds, and that can cause similar symptoms. The goal, Henderson says, is to protect residents as best they can while not making anyone feel ostracized.

Safety Precautions

Many senior communities and elder care facilities in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have created pages on their websites where residents, staff and visitors can go to get information on coronavirus prevention and see what properties are doing to mitigate an outbreak. A lot of those senior communities adhere to the guidelines set forth by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the state or county health departments. Brightview Senior Living has properties all over Maryland and Virginia. The company says it has stepped up its precautionary measures including:

  • Effectively cleaning all surfaces of the community where germs could spread, using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suggested disinfectants, cleaning methods and standard precautions.
  • Performing daily infection control rounds to identify anyone exhibiting symptoms of the virus.
  • Thoroughly educating our teams on the virus and the precautions suggested by the CDC, including thorough and frequent hand washing and staying home from work when sick.
  • Any resident who exhibits flu-like symptoms will be quarantined in his or her apartment. We will then contact the primary care physician and the state Department of Health for further instructions.

Beware Of Scams

  • When there's crisis, it's likely there will be criminals that try to take advantage of people during this vulnerable time. The National Council on Aging advises seniors to remain vigilant and be on the lookout for scams.
  • Watch for emails claiming to be from the CDC, or World Health Organization (WHO), or experts saying they have information about the virus. Navigate directly to those websites for accurate and timely information.
  • Don't click on links from sources you don't know. The links could contain harmful computer viruses meant to steal personal information.
  • Beware of phone calls from unfamiliar numbers, and never provide personal information to people you don't know.
  • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure coronavirus — online or in stores.
  • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites. Don't let anyone rush you into making a donation. If someone wants donations in cash, by buying a gift card or by wiring money, don't do it.

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