Have you ever been on vacation somewhere and gotten in a few great days, only for the rest of the trip to be completely rained out? I’m talking rain rain, not just drizzles – enough of a downpour to make you stay in your hotel room, praying for some sun. Such a crappy feeling, isn’t it? When I reflect on the past three (!!) years and what we’ve experienced in senior living, that analogy comes to mind; the pandemic has been a storm, washing out the final weeks/months/years of people’s lives. Truthfully, it’s been more of a hurricane, whose aftermath has a ripple effect that seems impossible to clean up.
I’ve worked in some questionable senior living communities, from a new build that ran “lean and mean” (read: with dangerously low staffing ratios) to, most notably, one that was on the verge of bankruptcy. Still, nothing holds a candle to what I’ve seen COVID do to assisted livings. I’d go back to bankruptcy in a heartbeat if it meant we could erase the below realities:
- If time is a thief, COVID is Doris Payne. The past three years have been like a time warp, only the elderly don’t have any extra time to spare. Many had their lives cut short, succumbing to the virus and passing away. Others were robbed of enjoying what little time they did have left, spending their final months/years in a very lonesome and unusual solitude.
- Speaking of solitude, I can’t imagine anyone having been more isolated during the pandemic than those in senior living. For longer than I like to recall, they weren’t permitted to leave their small apartments for any reason, even to get some fresh air outside. Window visits with family members were only allowed on milestone birthdays. What constitutes a milestone when you’re toward the end of your life? Isn’t every year a gift? The windows were sealed shut, no less! It breaks my heart thinking of not only what was implemented for their safety, but how terrified we felt and how desperately we wanted to keep them safe to implement it all in the first place.
- There is no doubt that the precautions put in place to keep COVID out of our communities resulted in significant physical and cognitive declines. Remaining sedentary isn’t good for anyone, let alone those who are already in less-than-ideal shape. I witnessed firsthand the rapid progression of dementia in some and the debilitating weight gain & de-conditioning in others.
The above is the tip of the ice berg. No one person or organization is to blame for how the pandemic was handled in the senior living world; no one knew what we were up against, let alone how to battle the virus and keep our most vulnerable safe. We also had— scratch that, have — no idea how long it’ll last. Everyone did and continues to do their best, learning as they go and cleaning up the mess this hurricane has left behind. Here’s to hoping that 2023 is a year of healing, change, and rebuilding.