Writer: Joey Garrand
2 min read March 2021 — The pandemic has touched everyone’s lives but seniors have been impacted disproportionally. At a higher risk from the virus than most other population segments, they have been forced into isolation from family and loved ones. This has created an enormous challenge for senior care providers in the Philadelphia region, but also opportunity.
The percentage of individuals 65 and over in the city of Philadelphia is 14%, just below the national average of 16.5%. Surrounding counties in the Greater Philadelphia region experience higher rates, however. In Montgomery County, for example, 18.2% of the population is elderly.
Thomas Garvin, CEO of Waverly Heights, a senior living community located in Montgomery County, told Invest: that keeping seniors safe from the virus came at the cost of social interactions, and maintaining the mental health of residents was difficult. “At the end of the day, we’ve been minimally impacted by COVID-19 from a negative outcome perspective,” he said, but added: “Their mental health and psychological well-being were sizable issues that we wanted to address from the beginning.”
To tackle the issue, Waverly Heights instituted what it calls “Reassurance Calls.” This involved making calls every day to reassure residents. “There was a touch point on every resident who lives here at Waverly Heights by someone making a reassurance call. Sometimes it was just a casual conversation; other times it was for (residents) to be able to vent about how they were feeling or just talk about the emotions that they were going through. That was critical to helping people’s mental well-being stay strong. The other things we did in the healthcare center and to some extent with independent living were Zoom calls and meetings where we put families together whenever they wanted.”
Abramson Senior Care, located in Montgomery County, also used technology to maintain the mental health of seniors. “It’s using the power of other technologies — Zoom, FaceTime, Skype — to connect people from around the world since we were in lockdown and were not allowed to have families visit our brick and mortars,” said CEO Carol Irvine. “It’s also important to train our older adults and encourage families to get their loved ones smartphones or iPads. When in need, we’ve actually supplied equipment so that people wouldn’t feel so isolated.”
Providing technology tools is only part of the solution, added Irvine. Care providers also need to train residents to use those tools. Abramson is going so far as to establish IT training, understanding that the world has changed and so have the needs of the elderly residents in its care. “In the near future, one of the positions we will look to fund is IT training. Care managers are the ones with social services and aging backgrounds, great customer service and the ability to connect with people, but the older adults need help to get there with technology. It’s more than just figuring out how to work the remote control and Netflix.”
Abramson has partnered with Health Recovery Solutions for telehealth and remote patient monitoring. The solution works as an app for those with a smart device but it also includes a cellular tablet for those without one, said Irvine.
Although times are challenging, the pandemic has also provided an opportunity for senior care expansion and innovation. “We expect the continued expansion of home and community-based services. We will be ready to launch at least one new model of care and we feel pretty excited about our direction. Senior care is really ripe for a different level of innovation, more than ever before. We’d like to be one of the organizations that helps figure it out,” said Irvine.
Garvin said that despite the pandemic, seniors are continuing to view facilities like Waverly Heights as positive and viable options. “Out of the several hundred people on our wait list, there were just a handful who said they would not make a move until COVID was gone. We had 60 new deposits from individuals wanting to get on our wait list from March until December, many of whom did so without seeing the site.”
One advantage for the Philadelphia market is the presence of a well-developed healthcare ecosystem that is technology-driven and innovative, Irvine added. “Philadelphia is a rich area in the market. It’s filled with robust academic medical centers and sophisticated health systems. There is a spirit of innovation here; it adds to the commitment to healthcare that a lot of regions aren’t as fortunate to enjoy. As a healthcare provider, we benefit from the talent pool here, the workforce here, and the ability to collaborate.”
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Photo Credit: Abramson Senior Care Facebook