Written by Donald A. Promnitz
At The Vineyards; the California Armenia Home in South Fresno, Sales and Marketing Director Ren Ramshaw and her team entered the 2020 season expecting nothing less than record-breaking sales.
The campus was at 95% occupancy with people moving into their villas, independent and assisted living and memory care alike. Then the pandemic hit.
Now, confidence has been shaken and the Vineyards team has had to pivot to ensure not only the well being, but also the confidence of their seniors. This is all done as rules constantly shift on matters like visitations with family, dining allowances and rules on gatherings.
Birthday parties and game nights have been replaced by provisions of sparkling cider to residents’ rooms and Bingo games on walkie-talkies.
Visitations, when the state has given the green light, have largely been behind Plexiglas.
Adapting has been a challenge, along with assuring not only the health, but also the validation of their residents.
“It’s been a challenge to make sure that each resident feels seen and heard and informed of the challenges that are happening,” Ramshaw said.
“Also keeping family members that are responsible parties informed — our goal has always been and will always be residents’ health and safety — physically, emotionally and socially.”
While there’s hope that things may resume to a state of normalcy with the vaccine, Covid-19 has nonetheless forced families and facilities to rethink operations and marketing strategies to keep in business. Meanwhile, other forms of senior living have seen their chance to showcase their benefits amidst the chaos.
Perhaps the most heavily hit form of senior living from the pandemic has been nursing homes. The fallout of the coronavirus and its adverse effects are still being felt, and it’s still too soon to completely gauge overall impact, but nursing homes alone have made up 33% of all virus-related deaths in California, according to data published by the “New York Times.”
However, even before Covid-19, there were signs of trouble for senior living facilities and nursing homes. Last February, on the eve of the pandemic, the senior services trade group Leading Age released a report showing that more than 550 nursing homes had closed between 2015 and 2019. Just nine states made up more than half of these closures, with California having 26.
But Summer Boesch, director for Home Instead Senior Care in Fresno, says there’s no denying that the pandemic has shaken people’s confidence in the nursing home and senior living system. Just this year, 20 caregiver positions have opened up as the demand has skyrocketed for in-home care.
A major component to this, Boesch said, is the ability to maintain independence while being able to remain in the places they’ve lived for years.
“Seniors are wanting to stay at home and not venture out to pick up groceries, or maybe go and pick up their prescriptions and things like that,” she explained. “So we’ve seen an influx of in-home care because seniors are needing somebody to go pick up stuff for them.”
Boesch added that companionship is another major appeal to the in-home care approach for seniors. In fact, the isolation experienced by seniors during the pandemic has been a concern for seniors and their loved ones alike.
“In-home care is looked at as an alternative, not just from the senior, but by the families too,” Boesch said. “And we’re seeing with seniors staying home, at least they have an option of being able to visit mom, so definitely in-home care has been an option for seniors to be able to continue to communicate with their families in whichever way they choose.”
It is worth noting, however, that in-home care workers are not trained medical professionals, with their duties being closer to being caretakers than nurses — something acknowledged by Boesch. As seniors look for alternatives, Boesch says in-home care may be supplemented with home health.
Ramshaw added that facilities like the Vineyards also offer things like round-the-clock service to ensure the nutritional, physical and emotional needs of their residents are accommodated as carefully as possible. These places can also foster communities and become extended families, a major appeal during pre-Covid times.
Ramshaw believes that it’s factors like these that will turn around her luck and the luck of her colleagues when the pandemic eventually passes.
“I still in my heart of hearts do believe that what we are selling is peace of mind and hope for a better future,” Ramshaw said. “And again, the physical well-being and emotional well-being of our residents.”