Many complex new challenges face our senior living communities

By David Lawrenz

Operating a senior living community is challenging under normal circumstances. Staffing, regulations, reimbursement, uncompensated care, occupancy, public relations, natural calamities, and more offer an unlimited source of challenges and threats on a regular basis. Now, one can only try to imagine the challenges in this unprecedented time–the constant, ever-changing, seemingly insurmountable challenges involved with battling the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While I hunker down and stay in the safety of my home I empathetically think of the extra, unexpected, and complex set of problems and concerns facing our Church of the Brethren-affiliated senior living communities. Such as…

Keeping key frontline staff safe, healthy, and committed to their daily care routines in spite of the demands of, and risks to, their own families.

Training staff on critical new infection control procedures.

Filling vacant positions as symptomatic staff are self-quarantined for days and weeks.

Adequately rewarding staff for their tireless and dedicated service.

Constantly seeking to acquire sufficient quantities of extremely expensive and scarce personal protective equipment.

Establishing and enforcing new and uncharacteristically strict policies in order to limit resident exposure to family, friends, delivery persons, contractors, suppliers, therapists, doctors, clergy, and others.

Creating special areas and procedures for the protective isolation of infected residents.

Acquiring telemedicine capabilities.

Developing new programs to replace group dining and activities.

Engaging isolated residents to help them contend with loneliness and boredom.

Connecting residents with families electronically.

Attempting to affect social distancing and masking needs among a group of cognitively-impaired, wandering-prone residents.

Transparently sharing essential information without creating undue alarm.

Responding to daily regulatory guidance from local, state, and federal authorities.

Terrified with every overheard cough. Anxious about the health of each and every person of the community–residents and staff. Apprehensive about what problem the next day will bring. Burdened by thoughts about what’s to come, the new reality, and how the life of the community will change.

I’m confident this is just a hint of the number and complexity of new challenges facing our senior living communities. 

Pre-retirement I served for several years as executive administrator of Timbercrest, a Church of the Brethren-related retirement community in North Manchester, Ind. From experience, I know the typical stresses and strains involved in operating a senior living community, but I never experienced any challenge with the magnitude of COVID-19. In my current role as executive director of the Fellowship of Brethren Homes (FBH) I am removed from the life-altering problems brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. So I support from a distance. I pray for our FBH communities as a group and individually. I pray for their strength, persistence, and determination. Amidst my prayers I find comfort in knowing the good people involved with these communities, good people up and down the organization. All are committed to their mission and ministry. All are intent on doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. All genuinely care for the people they serve. 

The Church of the Brethren has a long and respected tradition of providing exceptional care and services to older adults. That tradition and the values upon which it was founded are serving our communities well. This means you, I, and the residents and families served by our retirement communities can rest assured that all challenges, normal and extraordinary, are being met with competence and compassion. May God bless them all! 

— David Lawrenz is executive director of the Fellowship of Brethren Homes.

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