Embrace Living Supports Older Adults as ‘New Normal’ Kicks In

A resident receives a surprise visit and goodie package.

When the global pandemic caused a public health emergency at the beginning of 2020, Embrace Living Communities — based in Oakbrooke, Ill. — reassessed how to keep its strong culture of resident engagement while ensuring the health and safety of those who call their communities home. The revisioning was the work of each community’s social service coordinator.

“Embrace Living Communities is resident-focused and integrates housing with services to enhance the independence and quality of life for the residents we are privileged to serve,” says Jennifer Truppa, director of social services and quality assurance at Embrace Living. “We have always believed in a resident-centric approach where the services offered promote a caring and safe environment characterized by respectful relationships. These services provide opportunities that nurture meaning, joy, self-sufficiency and choice for residents.”

Embrace Living Communities supports the building of healthy communities on-site and locally within the neighborhood. Social services represent the approach utilized by Embrace Living Communities to organize services and fulfill the role of service-oriented management, which fosters individuals to enhance their quality of life, age in place with dignity and encourage fundamental change of social and economic systems.

 “Our goal is to provide an environment where residents thrive as they engage in programs and services designed to meet their needs,” says Truppa. “Prior to the pandemic, social service coordinators connected residents with resources in the greater community. During the pandemic, we had to reverse that and create a way to bring more of the resources safely to them.”

Bringing Community Resources to Residents

The average age of the residents who call Embrace Living home is 76. Many are vulnerable and don’t have family members close by. “They really rely on us and their neighbors in the community to help them with many of their basic needs,” says Truppa. Those needs include medical care, prescriptions, mental health services and food. “Whatever they normally would go out for, we had to set up systems to bring to them while they sheltered in place.”

The pandemic has resulted in reinventing how social services were offered and the need to pivot quickly to effectively respond. For example, social service coordinators spent much more time procuring and distributing food, securing PPE and finding alternate ways to deliver services.

With food insecurity being a reality for many senior residents, Embrace Living teams work with local organizations to provide the food they need to remain healthy. “The residents’ ability to stretch their dollars to cover all their basic needs is a challenge,” states Truppa. “We are fortunate to have outstanding relationships with local food banks and pantries that supply fresh produce, dairy, meat protein and shelf-stable items each week that we can distribute directly to residents’ doors while practicing physical distance and wearing face coverings.”

Socialization — From a Distance

The social service coordinators also have had to pay attention to residents’ mental health, which requires a shift in strategies. “Social service coordinators had relied on spontaneous face-to-face communication with residents before the pandemic, [but] coordinators have had to shift to telephone calls for wellness checks, and written notices like newsletters and positive messages are being delivered to residents’ doors to protect both our residents and staff,” says Truppa. The coordinators call each person at least once a week to check in. “This has helped us continue to maintain and strengthen relationships,” she adds.

To help the weekly conversations along, Embrace Living staff created “daily conversation themes” to help. Whether it’s Musical Monday (favorite artists) or Turn Back Tuesday (favorite teachers or first jobs), each theme helps to engage the residents. “The goal is to come up with questions that take them out of a place of isolation, even for a moment, and remind them that we are here walking with them through these difficult times,” says Truppa. “Some of the residents have enjoyed the daily conversation themes so much that they’ve used them when they chat with their families and have shared that the conversations were richer and sparked positive memories.”

In addition to the weekly calls, Embrace Living staff has found other ways to keep residents engaged, including packets of crossword puzzles to remote bingo. “Some of our team go door to door and leave positive affirmations for residents to find,” says Truppa. “It’s something that brings positivity and happiness in a less than happy time.”

Coordinators also scheduled activities around the properties that could be structured around social distancing, including scavenger hunts, door-decorating contests, and outdoor bingo or music performances. One community even went above and beyond and had a traveling arts and crafts display that showcased the work of residents. Each piece had a bio of the artist for other residents to admire.

Team members also will leave goodies at the doors of residents, especially for special occasions like birthdays. Many knock and then stand socially distanced just to see the residents’ faces when they open the door. “It’s a chance to not just ask if they are okay over the phone, but to actually see if they are okay,” explains Truppa. “The residents really appreciate that bond with our staff and the care they show towards them.”

In all of these ways, Embrace Living staff have managed to keep the residents’ health and well-being in the forefront during the transition to a new normal. The Embrace Living team “continues to do a fantastic job pivoting and getting through this,” says Truppa, and says, “[They] have been true heroes from day one of this pandemic.”

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