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Connecting through innovation Annapolis nursing homes and assisted living facilities promise change with the pandemic

Capital - 10/17/2020

The coronavirus pandemic has made the future of nursing homes and assisted living facilities unclear, with a high death rate and staff shortages.

But companies that operate or develop facilities in Annapolis say they're putting new protocols in place so they can survive and provide a safe haven for elderly area residents.

Pam Jordan, director of human services in Anne Arundel County, said the psychological needs of patients have been the most difficult challenge through the pandemic. Visitations were halted after the virus hit senior living facilities hard in the spring, and only recently resumed.

"Even with technology, it has been a challenge for the community to make good connections with residents during the pandemic," Jordan said. "Staff in each facility are very busy trying to meet infection control requirements, give appropriate care to residents, so it is difficult for staff to monitor visitation while also completing their other necessary tasks."

In Maryland, deaths from COVID-19 in nursing homes, group homes and assisted living facilities is 2,155, 36% of total deaths in the state, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

In the future, support service providers such hospice care, home care agencies, hairdressers, dentists, podiatrists, physicians and ombudsmen, among others, will have to set up new protocols for visiting. In the past, it was typical for employees of these services to visit several residents and several facilities in a single day.

"The aftermath of the pandemic will have lasting effects on the staff of facilities and the industry as a whole," Jordan said. "We should all look for ways to bring positive changes through this experience for the future of all residents, families and staff."

Larry Bradshaw, president and CEO of National Lutheran Communities and Services, is developing The Village at Providence Point in Annapolis, a continuum of care facility seeking planning and permit approvals in Annapolis and from the Maryland Department of Aging. The project has faced significant delays and opposition.

National Lutheran integrated technology into its homes before the pandemic, but Bradshaw said there is heightened emphasis now to keep older adults safe and from becoming isolated. He said new facilities such as Providence Point will be able to "pivot and adapt more readily for any future pandemics."

"Social isolation is a detriment to health and wellness, so ensuring individuals stay connected with loved ones and friends is a health imperative," Bradshaw said. "At the beginning of the pandemic, National Lutheran leveraged its existing in-house TV channel as a way for our residents to stay connected. They participate in exercise programs, lifelong learning opportunities, and even Sunday worship services, all by utilizing their TV."

With restrictions on visitation, National Lutheran has been using other platforms for patients to virtually visit family members, such as Facetime, Google Duo, Zoom and more. As restrictions eased, they have offered socially distanced, outdoor visits to reunite loved ones. Bradshaw said one of the group's communities has a robot that delivers food to patients.

"The opportunity this pandemic created is that we've accelerated initiatives from our three-year strategic plan to implementation in less than six months," Bradshaw said. "Our future remains vibrant, and many consumers are recognizing senior living organizations continue to provide a lifestyle and services necessary to older adults."

The biggest struggle Bradshaw sees in health care will be maintaining a workforce. Workers in nursing homes and facilities weigh the risks of exposure in considering their own safety.

"Unfortunately, some have determined that working in health care is not in their future. This is a sad reality, coupled with existing workforce shortages in the industry," Bradshaw said. "Senior living organizations have an uphill battle with obtaining and retaining the workforce needed to provide the quality care and services to older adults."

At The Arbor in Annapolis, director of business development Jim Harrington said patients haven't had visitors inside the building since March, but just like National Lutheran they allowing socially distanced outside visits.

"It has been tough a lot of the residents haven't seen their families and tensions are high," Harrington said. "Anyone with dementia doesn't understand what is going on. It has been a challenge."

The rules for visitation are changing. The state recently allowed indoor visitation to resume at Maryland nursing homes where no new cases have been reported in 14 days or more. It also relaxed the rules on compassionate care visits and provided an additional $6 million specifically for testing nursing home staff.

"There is a lot of unknowns going forward, but only thing we know is how to care for these people," Harrington said. "Everything has changed and not in a good way for the residents, because they are more restricted."

One challenge The Arbor has been faced with is activities for patients and keeping them entertained. In the future, Harrington would like to find out more programs and activities for the residents to participate in. The care and the precautions won't change in the future, he said.

Bay Village, which will open a new 88-unit assisted living facility in Annapolis in January, is incorporating new technologies intended to will help combat the spread of the virus or other airborne illnesses.

The company has put electrostatic air purifies in each apartment, technology that removes the need for replaceable filters. A cleansing system at the entrances will use UV light to deactivate pathogens visitors' clothes.

"I think it is going to be amazing for our residents and all these things are big benefits to our residents," said Erin Watson, community development director.

Watson sees most of these cleansing systems being used widely in communities around the country.

"They are not only good for COVID but for the flu and mold bacteria and viruses. So that makes it safer in general," she said.

John Degan, executive operations officer at Bay Village, is said that the company's 12 locations have not reported one case of COVID-19.

"Seniors are the most vulnerable and we are asking a lot of our staff right now," Degan said. "It is life and death for some of our residents, we feel good where we and where we are headed. We are excited to get this thing done and open."

Caption: An architectural rendering of what The Village at Providence Point-A National Lutheran Community's main buildings could look like, pending approvals and future design changes.

Residents at The Village at Augsburg-A National Lutheran Community in Baltimore enjoy a socially distanced outdoor concert. National Lutheran is developing the Villages at Providence Point in Annapolis.

Courtesy illustration

Courtesy Photo

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