The safety of Retirement Communities has been a hot topic in the media since the onset of the pandemic. Retirement Communities around the world have been hit hard by COVID-19, and in Canada, statistics show that half of the COVID-related deaths are associated with Long-Term Care (LTC).

Given these facts, you may be asking yourself if a Retirement Community is a safe option for yourself or your loved one.  You are not alone, and many have been deciding to stay in their home or to live with family or friends until the pandemic has been declared over. Before making this decision, it is important to understand that not all retirement communities are the same. In addition, the industry has had to quickly adapt and establish practices which will extend beyond the pandemic to keep its residents safe.  Avoiding retirement communities altogether is not the best option as they provide invaluable support and perhaps most importantly, the opportunity to socially engage with others. 

  

We believe information is power.

 

Our goal is to provide information on the differences between the various accommodations available to Older Adults in Ontario, specific challenges Retirement Communities have faced during the pandemic, and how the industry has responded to the crisis to come out even stronger. We will also share some important questions to ask when you are looking at options for yourself or your family member.

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Let us breakdown the differences in housing accommodations available:

 

  1. Older Adult Retirement Communities:

These communities are designed for independent adults 55 years and above. They provide a variety of services typically organized by the residents themselves and range from rental to purchase options. Older adult retirement communities are operated by private or not-for-profit organizations, and housing is typically private townhomes, apartments, or condominiums.  At Luther Village on the Park, the Life Lease accommodation fits within this style of living.

  1. Assisted Living Retirement Communities:

Assisted living communities in Ontario are regulated by the Retirement Homes Regulatory Authority (RHRA).  This is to ensure standardized care and service practices are implemented, the safety of residents is met and their rights protected.  Various lifestyle options may include meals, housekeeping, activities, assistance with activities of daily living and medication administration. Assisted living communities are operated by private or not-for-profit organizations who determine pricing and lifestyle services available. Accommodations are typically private studio, one-bedroom or two-bedroom apartments ranging in price based on the suite and services selected.  At Luther Village on the Park, the Sunshine Centre fits within this style of living.

  1. Long-term Care Communities:

LTC provides comprehensive 24-hour nursing care to eligible residents.  Given the shortage of available beds, admissions are based on need.  Standardized costs and staffing models are established by the Ministry of Health & Long-term Care and whether or not you quality for financial assistance will depend on factors such as type of accommodation (i.e. private vs. shared) and net income. All applications and admissions are facilitated through the Ontario Health Teams (previously Local Health Integration Network - LHIN). Although LTC communities are operated by private or not-for-profit organizations, they are primarily government-funded.

 

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Retirement communities like Luther Village on the Park are not Long-Term Care and therefore not reliant on government funding or subject to the same pressures. That said, there are many lessons retirement communities have learned from Long-Term Care that have equipped the industry to effectively respond to secondary and tertiary waves of COVID-19:

 

Staffing Shortages:

The sector has faced staffing shortages for years due to high demand for Registered Practical Nurses (RPNs) and Personal Support Workers (PSWs). At the onset of the pandemic staff in multiple care homes had to choose one primary employer and location to reduce the risks of spreading the virus from one care community to another.  This left many communities vulnerable with few staff on hand.  Furthermore, staff with any COVID symptom were often unable to work, leaving their shifts vacant and unfilled.

Good News: Governments are investing money into colleges and post-secondary institutions to fund enhanced enrollment into key nursing fields to meet demand and decrease unemployment rates. Which means most communities are not only maintaining the primary location protocols for their staff, but also co-horting so that staff caring for residents primarily work with the same individuals to reduce exposure risks.

 

Personal Protective Equipment Crisis:

Hospitals and retirement communities around the world were faced with a critical shortage of personal protective equipment.  Although most had a healthy supply on hand, this was quickly depleted when mandatory masks were required by all personnel, and the ability to replenish supplies was limited.  Many communities began to see work refusals as staff felt ill-equipped to care for patients. 

Good News: Many local companies have retooled their machines to accommodate the production of essential PPE. As a country, we will be less reliant on imported PPE and able to quickly source equipment when required.  

 

Visitor Restrictions:

Family members and friends of those living in retirement communities not only play an important social role, but they often augment the care that is offered within the community.  All family support came to a halt when no visits were allowed. This was again exacerbated if the home experienced an outbreak where residents were ill and required enhanced care simultaneously.

Good News: Although visitor restrictions have now loosened, communities have developed screening practices, ongoing surveillance testing of staff and residents, universal masking policies, essential visitor practices and more to ensure visits can happen safely and regularly.

 

Retirement Communities have worked tirelessly to create and implement new pandemic policies, purchase new equipment, hire and train new staff and adopt best practices based on the latest research. Retirement Communities continue to offer high-quality, safe accommodations to those requiring support. 

 

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Being informed is powerful when making important decisions.

 

If you are considering a Retirement Community for you or your loved one, remember that they are not all the same. Consider the following six questions when considering your options at this time:

 

  1. How has the community managed thus far during the pandemic?  Did they have any outbreaks and if so, how long did they last and how fast were they contained?
  2. What are the infection control and safety measures put in place to keep residents safe? Examples include screening stations, ongoing surveillance testing of residents and staff, staff co-horting, enhanced cleaning schedules, etc.
  3. Does the organization have a healthy culture? What is their staff turnover rate and are they able to retain and attract excellent team members?
  4. Do they offer private accommodations and ample common areas to ensure physical distancing?
  5. What communication practices are implemented to ensure residents and their families remain informed through the pandemic?
  6. What creative social opportunities are still being offered and facilitated during the pandemic (i.e. zoom events, outdoor concerts, fun deliveries etc.)

 

We hope this information will equip you with facts and insights when considering what option is best for you or your family. 

When in the right community, older adults are happy, safe and well cared for.

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