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How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Safely in Your Senior Living Community in 2020

How to Celebrate Thanksgiving Safely in Your Senior Living Community in 2020

Thanksgiving is going to look a little different this year. To keep COVID-19 transmission at bay, families will likely opt for smaller gatherings (and smaller turkeys) instead of the customary large get-togethers with relatives who’ve flown in from across the country.

Unfortunately, this means that many seniors, who are at a heightened risk of developing serious illness from the coronavirus, may not get the chance to sit down with their loved ones at the Thanksgiving table. And those who live in senior living communities may not be able to participate in big community Thanksgiving traditions in 2020, either. 

But just because we can’t give thanks in person doesn’t mean we can’t give thanks at all. 

Senior living communities can still make room for gratitude and connection on this holiday in a year when both are badly needed – they’ll just need to do so in new ways. Here’s how to plan a safe and celebratory Thanksgiving for seniors in your community in 2020.

Err on the Side of Caution with Family Visits

The best-case scenario for Thanksgiving 2020 is that senior living residents are able to see their loved ones in person. If your community is in a part of the country that’s relatively warm in late November, or if you’re blessed with a stretch of good weather, you might consider holding socially distanced Thanksgiving family visits outside.

Every state has different protocols in place for visitors, and local COVID-19 incidences can vary widely within each state. If you decide it’s feasible to allow family visits in your community based on your state’s and regional circumstances, here are some general prevention best practices to follow, according to the CDC:

  • Clearly communicate your community’s specific disease prevention policies to residents and families ahead of the visit via easily accessible digital channels, such as your website, email, or community signage.
  • Have staff present to monitor mask wearing and social distancing during visits.
  • Provide adequate hygiene equipment in the visitor area, such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and no-touch trash cans.
  • If someone tests positive after a visit, educate residents about your isolation, testing, and treatment procedures.
  • Encourage residents and visitors to get a flu vaccine ahead of the visit. 

You may also want to consider staggering visits over the course of November to avoid heavy traffic in your community. This might encourage visits from family members who are wary about traveling over Thanksgiving weekend.

If a resident would like to travel to a loved one’s home for the holiday, ensure your staff have visibility into their transportation and stay. A HIPAA-compliant messaging platform like Caremerge’s Family Engagement solution can make staff coordination with family members smooth and secure. Upon return, have residents get tested for COVID-19 or require them to self-isolate for two weeks if a test is not available.

Help Residents Set Up Family Video Calls on Thanksgiving

Communities should provide a way for residents to connect with family members when an in-person visit isn’t possible. Even if your community is allowing visits, you’ll likely still have residents whose family members don’t intend to travel this year. 

Video calls are a great substitute for the real thing, and they also make it possible for residents to connect more often with loved ones who can’t easily visit. Senior living staff can schedule and manage calls at scale through a family engagement platform like Caremerge’s.

To make residents’ Thanksgiving video calls feel celebratory and meaningful… 

  • Suggest residents and family members write out what they’re thankful for this year ahead of time, which they can share over video. 
  • Encourage them to pull out some of their favorite old photos to look at together as a family.

Host a Socially Distanced Community Thanksgiving Meal

Thanksgiving isn’t Thanksgiving without the food. But you’ll need to be extra-cautious about serving your stuffing and pumpkin pie this year.

Once again, outdoor gatherings pose a lower transmission risk than indoor gatherings, so host your Thanksgiving meal outdoors if possible. 

To support social distancing, you can also consider blocking out several different meal times throughout Thanksgiving Day or weekend. That way residents can dine and spend time together in smaller numbers.

Bring Your Community Together Virtually for Traditions New and Old

The logistics of a large dining operation and other in-person events during the pandemic are no doubt tricky, and they may simply not be possible for many senior living communities in 2020. Instead, communities can bring Thanksgiving comfort right to their residents’ rooms and host virtual Thanksgiving celebrations. 

Over a video platform like Zoom, activities directors can plan a number of lively Thanksgiving festivities:

  • Watch the parade together: hold a livestream of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which will be a virtual event this year.
  • Say thank you: create an online platform for residents to write and send thank-you letters to staff and fellow residents, such as Caremerge’s Community Engagement solution.
  • Get crafty with family: host a virtual arts and crafts class for residents that family members can join from home. 
  • Share your stuffing secrets: let residents share their favorite Thanksgiving dishes online so that they can try new recipes in their own kitchens (for independent living communities).

If residents don’t have access to their own cooking arrangements, you can organize a meal delivery service. This way, residents can enjoy their Thanksgiving feasts from the comfort of their rooms while they tune in to community Zooms.

Thanksgiving for Seniors 2020: Balance Exciting Virtual and Safe In-Person Connection

Seniors aren’t just more vulnerable to COVID-19. They’re also vulnerable to prolonged social isolation, which can feel even more pronounced on a holiday that’s all about spending time with people you love.

There’s no one way for senior living communities to navigate the holiday season this year. Directors can start planning virtual programming now while they evaluate how to approach visits and live events on an ongoing basis.

But there is one thing that can help senior living directors no matter what: having the right digital tools to manage and execute both virtual and in-person events. Caremerge’s suite of Community and Family Engagement solutions can do just that.

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