The COVID-19 pandemic has been a long and frustrating journey for all, especially long term care communities. Senior living communities have been the last to see a return to “normal,” after strict restrictions to visitation were put in place in March. Over the months, more guidelines have been released, including guidance to exercise “extreme caution” if moving forward with family visitation. By now, all states but one has moved forward with some form of visitation, but the rules vary.

Now that the holidays are here, senior living communities need to prepare for safe family visits and know what to expect.

How the Holidays In Senior Communities Normally Look

Pre-COVID senior communities would decorate from floor to ceiling with holiday decor, fill up the schedule with holiday music and activities, and encourage all the family visitation and traditions. This year will look a little different. While the restrictions have relaxed, COVID-19 is still a major player and a serious consideration for communities, seniors, and families.

What Communities Can Expect and How to Prepare

Elaine Ryan, VP of State Advocacy and Strategy at AARP says “Safety is the utmost priority. It is critical all nursing home and assisted living facilities meet CDC guidelines.” While checking for updated guidelines and following these are crucial, facilities must have their own game plan. Keeping families behind barriers or not in person at all has been a difficult feat through the COVID pandemic, and with the holidays, the desire to see family is only escalated.

Between families coming to town, holiday parties, and the overwhelming urge to hug loved ones this time of year, it can be a struggle for communities to maintain safety for seniors.

Procedures will vary from state to state and even town to town in how they are handling COVID-19 now that the government has allowed for indoor and outdoor visits. Some communities are keeping visitation outside socially distanced, while others allow for indoor visitation with a partition. So, how can you prepare for the holidays?

Get Clear on Facility Rules

It is crucial to be clear on the rules your facility is instituting and adhering to. Where is visitation allowed? Can residents leave the facility? Is there COVID testing?

Continue to Encourage Hand Hygiene, Masks, and Social Distancing

Months have gone by following these rules and facility staff and residents alike can feel frustrated and over it. Continuing to educate and push these things will ensure the spread of COVID-19 is minimized, allowing for looser rules moving forward.

Keep Families in the Know

Transparency is huge, and the CDC and CMS have been encouraging the utmost communication between community and family. Keeping residents and families in the know will ensure peace of mind, and keep everyone on the same page for expectations.

Adapt To Create An Enjoyable Holiday Season

Regardless of COVID-19, the holidays are getting closer and closer. Senior communities across the country have been rolling with the punches since March, and now is the most important time to get creative and adapt to ensure residents have an enjoyable holiday.

In order to keep the holiday season fun and enjoyable, keeping residents and family connected, planning meals and activities, and playing music can all continue. Some simple ways to adapt can be switching out a musical performance to a musical activity cart going room to room. Other ways are to consider virtual entertainment or courtyard performances. The goal is to relieve isolation and keep residents engaged during this time by adapting, not canceling altogether (see 5 ways to reduce isolation this holiday season here)

Challenges to Plan For

There are many challenges you should keep in mind.

Unhappy Families

Like anything in life, there will be disagreements and frustration around the choices of the facility and how they’re handling COVID-19. One way to counteract bad reactions is to keep expectations for the holiday season where they should be. Keep weekly communication with families and share any and all changes with them.

Bad Weather

If a facility is banking on nice weather for outdoor visitation, there should be a backup plan! Additionally, think of keeping electronics charged up in case loss of power or plans fall through, so video chatting can save the day. Consider creating indoor spaces where families can visit safely whether that is through partitions or safe distances. No matter where or how you host visits, ensure that residents hearing and visual needs are met as masks, distances and partitions can create barriers that impact meaningful visitation.

Keeping Family Following Rules

Another challenge will be maintaining safety for in-person visitation. Families will want to hug, kiss, and get close to their loved ones. Again, be sure to present expectations pre-visit and have the appropriate staff nearby to maintain facility rules.

Spread Cheer, Not COVID!

Each senior community will have a unique set of rules and struggles this holiday season depending on CDC recommendations and individual facility plans. With that said, there are plenty of ways to adapt and prepare ahead of time, to ensure residents and families have as close to a normal holiday season as possible. Get planning now, and be sure to keep family in the loop to keep expectations where they should be!