Monarch House: Coping with COVID-19 in an Assisted Living Community
From Monarch House Assisted Living
Making the decision to move into a retirement community was hard enough without the new normal COVID-19 has brought.
With Seniors being the most vulnerable to this disease, retirement communities have put in place protective mitigation measures recommended by the CDC and the Georgia Dept. of Community Health.
Every one is aware of the “social distancing” and “shelter in place” guidelines being practiced by the general population. But how does this apply to residents living in private retirement communities?
Most communities are restricting access to essential personnel only, medical staff and caregivers. Even family members are not permitted to visit their loved ones except in special circumstances. Many communities are also restricting residents to their private suites even serving meals in their room rather than in the community dining room.
Although these mitigation policies are necessary in protecting the elderly from being exposed to this horrific virus, severely restricting family visits and resident-to-resident social contact can lead to mental health issues such as loneliness, fear of abandonment and depression. Family members are restricted from visiting their loved ones, leading to anxiety and concern that their parent is being properly protected from the virus. Questions also arise as to how they are coping with not being able to have family visit them.
So, how do retirement community owners and managers balance physical safety with mental health?
At Monarch House Assisted Living, a local retirement community that has had no incidences of COVID-19, we are committed to protecting our residents from the virus while also being sensitive to the impact these new restrictions have on the mental health and their well-being.
Monarch House has added additional staff to wipe all surfaces with disinfectant numerous times a day. Non-essential personnel are prohibited from entering the building. Temperatures are taken of all staff and contract medical persons. In addition, protective face masks are required while any contract medical staff are within the confines of the building.
Monarch House has certain advantages over many other retirement communities both in its small size and design. This multi-level building was designed to house only 41 private suites with a disproportionately high amount of community space rather than forcing more revenue producing apartments.
Just as in your home or condominium, you have a private master bedroom/bath and the rest of your house contains all of the living, dining and activity spaces. Monarch House has over 25,000 sq.ft. of community spaces, including an open-air rooftop deck with outdoor gardens and a huge solarium with year-round gardening activities.
Another unique feature – which you don’t see but you feel with every breath – is constant fresh air circulating throughout each private suite and common area. In the initial planning of Monarch House, the owner recognized the fact many seniors will come with respiratory issues associated with COPD, Emphysema, or other breathing problems associated with aging. The owner directed its mechanical engineer to recommend ventilating systems that would optimize environmental air quality. Monarch House had installed a DOAS (Dedicated Outside Air System) to constantly bring in fresh air to each private suite and common area while pulling out pollutant-laden stale air.
The COVID-19 virus attacks the respiratory system with terrible consequences that are even more severe for seniors and those with pre-existing conditions. Given the COVID-19 experience, it is conceivable that future retirement community designs will incorporate sophisticated air quality systems similar to Monarch House.
Assisted Living communities are practicing “shelter -in-place” policies and several are confining their residents to their rooms 24 hours-a-day. Monarch House residents “shelter-in-place” but are not confined to their rooms. With huge community spaces, the residents maintain “social distance” from each other but are also able to socialize. Dining and other social activities are also safely spread out in the community areas with room to spare.
Inherent in the Monarch House management philosophy is the role that socialization has in enhancing the quality of life of its residents. Monarch House has been able to continue daily exercise classes, art classes and even bingo by expanding the gathering areas.
Live music still flows from the outside thanks to local artists who stage their performances to be viewed from community area windows above. Birthdays are still being shared and celebrated.
The one area that has been lacking since person-to-person contact is restricted is the connection between residents and their families. Monarch House assists residents in maintaining that connection with phone calls, FaceTime, Messenger & Google Duo. And they are currently making special arrangements for comfort visits with immediate family members.
All in all, Monarch House residents are doing well during this difficult time, but one would expect nothing less from our Greatest Generation!