How Brookdale Helped Shape COVID-19 Conversations About Senior Living

Kim Elliott, Brookdale’s senior vice president of clinical services, and Carol Cummings, senior director of optimum life engagement and innovation, both offered expertise to the CDC as well as to leading industry organizations. Here they take us inside some of those conversations, which helped put the needs of senior living residents on the radar.

How did you get involved with the CDC?

Kim Elliott: In the middle of the pandemic, I got an invitation to the CDC long-term care partner update call, which includes industry associations such as the American Association of Post-Acute Care Nursing, the National Association for the Support of Long-Term Care and Argentum. The call is for the CDC and its long-term care partners to exchange information and discuss infection prevention and patient safety strategies in long-term care settings. It’s every other week, and an email always goes out before the call asking if there are any questions you’d like to have addressed.

I started responding to that email saying, “This is what we're hearing in our communities. There are concerns about visitation, or testing.” And then it would be added to the agenda for the call, and I’d be asked to talk about what was happening in our communities.

So we were able to have robust conversations about what our needs were.

At some point there were questions about independent living, and Argentum asked if there was an expert on IL. So that’s when Carol was invited to join the calls.

Carol, what insight did you bring about Independent Living?

Carol Cummings: One really important perspective that I brought was the definition of independent living. The CDC asked us, and other industry folks to define: Where does it belong in the scheme of things? How is it different from assisted living? Or congregate living? Or subsidized senior housing for low income seniors? So we were able to provide insight about what independent living is, and what it’s not.

KE: I think we provided that same insight about assisted living, and how it’s different from skilled nursing. We were providing the CDC with a specific perspective for assisted living.

Obviously, a turning point in the pandemic was the FDA emergency authorization of a vaccine. What kind of insight were you able to give at that point?

KE: We were able to highlight some of the different dynamics of our setting from other settings that needed to be worked through. For example, when you do a vaccine clinic or post-vaccine clinic in a skilled nursing facility, you can actually ship the doses there and have a nurse go out and administer them. But in assisted living, you don’t necessarily have a nurse on-site who has the license to administer vaccines. And in independent living, there is not likely a nurse on-site. So, you have to have a third party, which in our case was CVS Health, who has staff to administer the vaccine.

Even now, as restrictions are lifting around the country, Brookdale is advocating on behalf of our residents to ensure our communities are open to visitors, and able to offer group activities and other opportunities for socialization. Can you talk a little about those conversations and how they’ve played out over the last year?

KE: With public health, especially during the pandemic, keeping the number of deaths and the number of cases low was the primary goal. I think we shared that goal of resident safety, but brought the important perspective of what was important to our residents, socialization and what that means to them. So we worked to find that balance and became a liaison between health and safety and public policy and understanding what we need to do for the needs of the population that we were serving.

Carol, how are you hoping to address the mental health effects of COVID-19 in communities as we move out of the pandemic?

CC: We've put together a workgroup to look at social and emotional well-being and highlight that for our residents this year. We are creating educational materials and we're pulling together resources for mental health services in our communities. And we’re looking at how we can support our associates as well.

What was it like to be working so closely with the CDC during the unprecedented challenges of COVID-19?

CC: It was so helpful, Kim, that you had the insight and information from those bi-weekly CDC calls. It helped us develop next steps for our communities and move things forward.

KE: To be in regular communication with both the CDC and the industry leaders they reached out to for real-time questions and answers and support throughout the pandemic was truly a privilege! The CDC proved to be a great partner. They were eager to listen and learn to provide assistance to our care setting.

To learn more about Brookdale’s response to COVID-19 and what’s next, join our May 19 webinar, COVID-19: How We’re Moving Forward, featuring a roundtable of Brookdale executives.

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