This story is featured in the March issue of Seattle magazine. Subscribe here to access the print edition.
Senior housing communities have been in the news for all the wrong reasons during the past year. A deeper look reveals that many have taken extraordinary steps to keep staff and residents safe while navigating a business that has been rapidly evolving long before the coronavirus pandemic.
According to industry trade publication Senior Housing News, senior living providers across the country bolstered health care offerings in the midst of “unprecedented financial and operational pressure.” That’s certainly been the case at Seattle-based Leisure Care, an operator of 52 independent living, assisted living and memory care facilities in 18 states, and Transforming Age, a Bellevue-based nonprofit organization that owns and runs 28 communities in three states, including 20 in Washington.
Seattle magazine asked Meghna Davidson, operations director at Leisure Care — an operator of nine communities in Washington state, including Murano, which is one of six in the Seattle area — and Janis Smith, sales and marketing director at Seattle’s Parkshore Senior Living Community —a Transforming Age property — how their communities battled the pandemic and what the future of luxury senior living looks like. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
Meghna Davidson: It has been a shining ray of hope for residents, families and staff. A hope toward returning to some normalcy. It has reenergized all of us to get back to what we love doing, which is promoting socialization, engagement and fun. We have vaccinated over 80% of our staff and over 90% of residents. It’s a step toward progress in overcoming the pandemic.
Janis Smith: As a result of our relationship with a partner/supplier, and some strategic advance planning, we were the first senior community in Washington to receive the Covid vaccine, in mid-December. The residents were almost giddy realizing that this could be the beginning of the end and would hopefully allow us all to get back to a more normal life at Parkshore. As of Feb. 1, all staff and residents who wanted the vaccine have had both doses.
JS: Very early on, we started a protocol for all team members of taking temperatures and completing health questionnaires daily, and that practice continues today. We also restricted visitors from coming into our building except under specific circumstances, and all team members and residents have been required to wear masks outside of their apartments. As a result of these changes and many others, Parkshore has been very fortunate to have stayed virus free. Fortunately, we have recently been able to open up our community to a limited number of visitors for our independent living residents.
MD: We increased sanitation every two hours and added air sani-tizer machines, electrostatic sprayers to disinfect surfaces, installed improved HVAC filtration systems, enhanced screenings at the front desk take place 24 hours a day and added an Accusheild check-in system with thermometer for screening so we can collect data in the event we have to contact trace. These were a few systems we added during the pandemic that will stay. Additionally, we screen and monitor residents daily to look for signs and symptoms of illness. This may not stick around forever.
MD: Increased live streaming of events such as cooking demos, mixology, music series, education lectures, exercise classes, art classes and resident/staff meetings. We developed an app called Mylcapp for resident and family use to ensure service requests
can be coordinated quickly, and activities and transportation signups can be done digitally. The app will also provide a community specific platform that serves as an internal communication channel allowing families to see the activities their loved ones are enjoying in the community, similar to our own Facebook feed. Health care was coordinated using onsite medical ser-vices and telehealth in addition to having our own onsite care team, including an RN.
JS: Residents have become familiar with Zoom and FaceTime as options to enjoy scheduled events and virtual visits with family and friends. We also created a comfortable outdoor area for socially distanced face-to-face visits, especially appreciated by our assisted living and our skilled nursing residents, as Independent Living residents have never been restricted from leaving the building.
MD: The pandemic has inspired new technology that will be useful going forward, whether it’s disease prevention or the ongoing health of our residents. It has taught us how to keep our residents engaged with each other in numerous virtual formats. Our team has learned how to navigate these virtual platforms, how to troubleshoot problems and, furthermore, how to help our residents utilize the technology themselves.
JS: Social interactions and activities are of high importance and dining together, attending classes together or just having coffee as a group are the activities most missed during the pandemic.
MD: One of the greatest resources Leisure Care provided for Murano Senior Living is our visiting media virtual tour and 3-D apartment images. We were able to connect virtually with our prospects and take them through our community using 360 technology as well as 3-D floor plans. This allowed us to simulate a tour while having the options to focus on the most important areas for our prospects. JS: Sales efforts included Zoom events, video greetings, and tours and virtual viewings, but it is difficult to replace in person.
Independent Living V.S. Active Adult
JS: Parkshore completed a $35-million, three-year renovation 18 months ago. Our focus was on health and social interaction. We put in a swimming pool, spa, new full-service salon, fitness class studio and all new equipment with fitness managers to lead classes and establish fitness programs. We also added a creativity center for all arts, and a new movie theater and meeting space outfitted with the latest technology.
MD: Leisure Care and Murano Senior Living already had a robust fitness program called PrimeFit. Our initial design of this community followed that model and we included a large state-of-the-art gym with specialty aerobic machines as well as push/pull and bal-ance equipment. We offer personal training and include specialized programs like Daily Dose and Virtual Kare.
MD: Our community has a Sea and Sky bar on the 24th floor with expansive views of downtown Seattle, Mount Rainier and Puget Sound. We have a gold simulator on that floor where we also host happy hours, book clubs and other social events. Our theater has been used for film screenings, training programs and symposiums. Murano Senior Living has three restaurants, including our Mood Bar with indoor and outdoor seating. We encourage “game day” gatherings and offer live music. We have an entire floor dedicated to pool, ping-pong, cards and games like chess. The community has an art gallery where residents can learn or participate in our sip-and-paint classes with wine.
JS: One of the many and most popular new areas is the 360 Grille on our 15th floor. From this top-floor restaurant, residents can enjoy inside and outside dining with an ever-changing fun dinner menu, traditional and creative drinks, and breathtaking views of Lake Washington and the Cascades, from Mount Rainier to Mount Baker. Parkshore includes meals for residents in their monthly fee so they don’t order a lot of groceries and we are assisting with the process and providing weekly grocery delivery so they don’t have to go out. There is also a nice small grocery store here in Madison Park, just one block away.
MD: Our residents still depend on and expect restaurant-style meals delivered to their apartment homes. All meals are prepared on site by the food and beverage team and delivered. Our communities have equipped themselves with delivery containers and carts to ensure food is presented and delivered in the best possible way. Several residents certainly depend more on grocery delivery services for their toiletries and essentials now more than ever. We did partner with our valet company, Four Park Valet, to provide personal shopping services for our residents so they don’t have to go out themselves if they don’t want to. Murano partnered with Four Park to offer Holiday Shopping Elf service. Amazon package deliveries also have grown significantly. The community front desk concierge manages the acceptance of these deliveries at the front desk and then coordinates deliveries to each resident apartment.
MD: I think the industry will continue to develop where there is a need. I think we will develop in urban and rural areas based on the demographics in the market. The key in development will be that we develop communities in a manner that is attractive to boomers from amenity perspectives and
allows us to respond to things such as pandemic limitation. For example, more open spaces, outdoor exercise spaces, dining options and so on.