Embrace Living Communities Weather Pandemic Together
In January 2020, Erica Scott was doing the job that she loves as the community manager for Embrace Living‘s GreenCastle of Mulford community in Rockford, Ill. Scott ensures the operations at GreenCastle run smoothly and that residents are taken care of. She is often the first to learn about news impacting the community. She was the first to learn about the coronavirus outbreak.
“I happened to see a message from our organization’s leadership about a new virus that had just been confirmed in the U.S., but at that time, the CDC referred to it simply as flu-like,” says Scott. “Embrace Living Communities has strong processes in place already when it comes to flu season preparation, so there was little concern.”
But just weeks later, the small concern quickly turned to action when the U.S. government declared a public health emergency, and COVID-19 became a global pandemic. Trends showed that the virus was especially dangerous to seniors so Scott, the other 33 community managers, and Embrace Living’s leadership worked quickly to respond.
Greg Watson, director of housing operations, knew from a presentation by an infectious disease expert that “we needed to start putting a plan and new protocols in place to keep residents and staff safe at our many communities.”
So Embrace Living’s leadership team started to meet frequently to stay on top of the daily updates from the CDC and HUD. Those messages were interpreted for the organization’s specific needs and communicated to community managers, who then implemented the new protocols. As a result, almost immediately, community areas at each location were shut down, and social programs were paused. Messages were sent to residents to ensure their understanding, not only of the changes, but of the virus’ risks and dangers.
“We were following CDC and HUD guidelines and taking their recommendations without being overly restrictive to our residents who enjoy an independent living environment,” says Watson. “The good news is that our residents fully understood what was going on, and that they were more vulnerable to the virus.”
Several processes were changed to lower the risk of spreading the virus within communities. For example, “any re-certifications or lease signings needed to be done differently from the face-to-face interaction we had previously,” says Watson. “We knew our staff had to go to public places at times, and we didn’t want to risk them bringing the virus into the communities.” So staff delivered documents under residents’ doors and had them bring them back to drop-box locations.
Cleaning processes also changed to focus heavily on high-traffic areas, door knobs and elevator buttons — priorities that will remain in place long after COVID-19 is gone, Watson adds.
Additionally, fewer activities and flexible scheduling allowed staff to work from home half the week and be onsite, wearing their masks, for the other 20 hours of the week.
The biggest need was for supplies. “The good news is that our locations each source supplies through different vendors,” says Watson. That multitude of vendors allowed Embrace Living to tap into various partners, regardless of which location needed supplies.
Luckily, says Watson, coronavirus cases within the communities remain low: the few who have tested positive have been quickly isolated to ensure the virus does not spread farther. Watson says that — especially since nationally, coronavirus cases continue to rise — the new protocols put in place in March will remain.
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