The vaccination rollout has hit its stride in recent months, with over 70% of those 65 and older now fully vaccinated and more than 84% having received their full dose. This success, combined with declining case numbers, has led many seniors housing and care communities to reopen for visitors. While such signs bode well for the future of the space, operators are looking to the lessons learned from COVID to both improve occupancy rates and keep residents and staff safe.

We recently connected with Rochelle Langlois, CEO of Progressive Care, a Minnesota-based senior living management company in operation since 2012. Progressive manages five seniors housing and care communities across Minnesota: Grand Meadows, Majestic Pines, River Grand, Pelican Landing and Scandi Haven Village.

Progressive has had tremendous success mitigating the effects of COVID over the past 14 months by quickly implementing enhanced safety protocols and utilizing telehealth tools to keep residents connected. The net result was an atmosphere where residents and staff stayed healthy – both physically and emotionally. As Langlois explained, the strategy focused on three key areas that are now permeant fixtures of the company’s ethos: redefining safety, empowered staff, and empowered residents.

Redefining Safety

Even the best disaster preparedness plan cannot predict every conceivable situation. Yet lessons learned from COVID prepare Progressive Care for future challenges. “We updated our disaster preparedness plan to include what we have learned from living through a pandemic,” said Langlois. The document serves as a “living” testament that provides updates on cleaning protocols, testing, screening, and sourcing personal protective equipment (PPE). More importantly, “our strategy consists of a communication component to keep residents, their families, and staff informed,” she added.

Another key aspect of safety is sanitation and cleanliness, which have always been part of the standard operating procedure at seniors housing and care communities. Post-COVID, however, these routines are much more stringent and more frequent. To enhance safety protocols for all parties that enter their buildings, Progressive hired temporary staff to keep handrails, doorknobs and other surfaces disinfected. “Improvements in our infection control procedures will be ongoing to continue to make our facilities a safe environment to live in,” added Langlois.

Vaccines, of course, play an essential role in maintaining a safe environment. Progressive invested in educating its staff and residents about the safety and importance of vaccinations as the most effective way to stop the virus. The campaign paid off. “We were very successful in our resident vaccination with a current rate of 98.5%. In addition, our staff vaccination rate was over 75% by the middle of May,” said Langlois.

Empowered Staff

Progressive’s person-centered care approach was pivotal during the pandemic because of the familiarity and connection the staff was able to build with the residents. Those connections empowered staff to proactively address residents’ needs via consistent care and dedicated assignments. “This constancy ensures our staff is better prepared to recognize changes in the resident and address issues of loneliness and feelings of isolation,” explained Langlois. “This resulted in many creative hallway activities, such as group yoga in chairs, to help us maintain patient strength while still observing social distancing and mask mandates,” Langlois added.

Empowered Residents

With the lockdown taking away opportunities for residents to have autonomy and to receive visitors, most seniors housing and care communities used social media, Zoom, emails, and outside visits as a substitute. Progressive found that weekly written updates to residents and their families provided a source of stability and comfort. Progressive also hired an additional activity coordinator to increase one-on-one activities and keep residents connected. “Technology can be very confusing for our residents,” explained Langlois. “The additional staff members spent many hours coordinating Zoom meetings with family members.”

Like many seniors housing and care communities, Progressive approaches reopening with eagerness, anticipation, and a hefty dose of caution. Care within the communities will never go back to normal; COVID-19 has permanently transformed policies and procedures, and Progressive has found that many of these changes are good ones.