Technology fills critical void as long-term living communities prepare for COVID’s 2nd wave

As we enter the fall season, the chance of resurgence in COVID-19 cases remains top of mind, especially for health care providers.

Just like we’ve seen in Britain, France, Germany and other European countries, New Jersey needs to be fully prepared for a second spike. For those who work in long-term care, it is our utmost responsibility to be ready and equipped with protocols that would limit exposure, based on lessons learned this spring and summer.

At Parker Health Group, like other long-term living communities, we are implementing best practices and protocols to not only limit exposure, but combat the psychological effects a quarantine brings. Many of these solutions rely on technology. Let me explain how, with the hope that our commitment to purpose-drive screen time may help others preparing for an uptick in coronavirus cases.

The widespread use of the internet became critical at Parker when COVID first hit. Foreseeing the need for our elders to remain engaged prompted us to provide additional tablets, video calling capabilities, robust Wi-Fi connections and hands-on training to promote ongoing communication between our residents and their loved ones.

We also greatly expanded technology for virtual sessions so that outside health care providers can provide “house calls” online with our residents. Our care partners also increased online programming to bring services to people at home, especially to those who typically participate in our Adult Day programs, including health, wellness and rehabilitation sessions.

Moreover, and just as importantly, technology has been used to nurture vibrant social engagement, which we see as critical to reducing feelings of loneliness and give meaning and purpose to our residents and those who participate in our Home and Community programs.. We’re providing interactive programming, such as painting classes, trivia games and stimulating social activities via Zoom and other free, easy-to-use platforms.  Elders have enjoyed virtual birthday parties, card games, graduations and other family events, safely and securely.

We also recommend virtual reality technology, a unique tool that Parker residents have truly embraced. We had been considering piloting the technology long before COVID, but were prompted to launch it during this pandemic to directly address isolation. It is making a remarkable difference socially and emotionally with our elders, who are enthusiastically embracing the opportunity to visit the wonders of the world, as well as their childhood homes, without the need to leave the house.

I’m thankful for this day and age where we can use the latest resources to combat a stubborn, lingering pandemic. I’m also thankful for our in-house information technology team, helping our residents maximize the possibilities and stay connected. We directly address the learning curve, following a recent Pew Research Center study showing one-third of people ages 65 and older don’t use the Internet.

Technological enhancements not only prevent the spread of COVID-19, but help our elders continue to celebrate life.

They are also part of updated protocols that long-term living communities need to move beyond the pandemic and focus on a healthy, nurturing environment for the next generation of residents. Constant innovation has been one of our key attractions to families; this pandemic has only furthered that commitment.

As we prepare for whatever health challenges loom on the horizon, our industry must remain vigilant, flexible and focused. Together, we must be steadfast in our commitment to provide exceptional care to the elder population — come a second wave or not.

Roberto Muñiz is CEO and president of Parker Health Group Inc., a nonprofit aging services organization based in Piscataway.