Housing & Living Conditions, March 31, 2020, 6:48 p.m.

Senior living communities have a strong role to play in protecting elderly from COVID-19

Author: riaan@wecanchange.co.za

Although senior citizens are seen as high risk when it comes to a potential COVID-19 infection, proactive measures and preventing misinformation and panic can go a long way in protecting those who are most vulnerable, says Barry Kaganson.

Although senior citizens are seen as high risk when it comes to a potential COVID-19 infection, proactive measures and preventing misinformation and panic can go a long way in protecting those who are most vulnerable, says Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria Senior Living, which develops, owns and manages a portfolio of leading senior living communities in South Africa.


“At Auria Senior Living, we are cognisant of the potential threat that COVID-19 poses. Most of our residents are over 75, putting them in a higher risk category. From the time that we became aware of the spread of the virus, we set up our own internal protocols for prevention, treatment and quarantine at our senior living communities. Staff and residents alike were informed about the best preventative steps to take from a personal hygiene point of view. They have also been informed about potential symptoms and when to be concerned. Early detection of any possible infections as well as the use of quarantine as risk mitigation will be critical as we go forward,” says Kaganson.


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the greatest risk is not the virus itself but existing and underlying health conditions that may compromise a person’s ability to fight an infection. Thus, elderly people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, lung disease and diabetes and anyone with a condition that affects the immune system need to be particularly vigilant.


The National Department of Health has issued treatment and quarantine protocols based on those recommended by the World Health Organisation. These are the protocols that those managing senior care facilities will need to follow in the case of infection, and which Auria Senior Living has already put in place.


“We have isolated a section of the care centre at our flagship senior living community, San Sereno, as a quarantine and treatment area should one be required for COVID-19 patients,” says Kaganson. “Furthermore, as our teams of nurses and carers across our communities closely interact with residents on a continual basis throughout the day, we have introduced a 14-day shift cycle. This is because the nature of care work involves close physical interaction with staff and residents and as these staff usually have to travel vast distances through congested stations, bus stops and taxi ranks and ultilise various, high risk forms of public transport, it is necessary to further protect vulnerable residents from accidental infection, as well as give our staff the opportunity to protect themselves,” says Kaganson.


The new shift cycle will mean that staff will reside full time at Auria communities over a 14-day time period, to avoid the daily commute and the associated risks. Following the first 14-day period, the next shift will take over and reside at San Sereno once again for another 14 days. “In this way, each member of the Care Team will only commute twice per month as opposed to daily and will, for approximately half the month, reduce their interactions with the outside community,” says Kaganson. “We are also temperature testing all residents and staff daily to ensure proactive identification of any health issues.”


Kaganson applauds government for the stringent measures put in place and says that Auria Senior Living will continue to monitor the situation carefully in order to offer peace of mind to residents and their families.


“Everyone has the responsibility to arm themselves with as much information as possible about the disease, its symptoms and how it spreads. But those caring for older adults have a duty of care to assist them.”


Kaganson adds that despite the higher susceptibility among seniors, in a well-managed facility these people may in fact be better protected from the disease and its effects in controlled environments that senior living communities, retirement villages and the like provide.


“Those living in senior living communities benefit from being able to obtain a variety of services within their communities, meaning they don’t need to venture out into the public domain too much and can stay at home more. With less need to rely on going out to shop or socialise, they are better off than those living alone,” says Kaganson.


“Senior living communities have the benefit of the better preparedness of management teams in ensuring hygiene protocols, given that the spread of flu among the elderly is always a risk. These environments are well set up to handle infection as well as to ensure the best hygiene practices, so infection prevention and control are in place at all times,” concludes Kaganson.