Let’s Focus on a Different Future

Conversations with Katie | May 26, 2020

Over the past few months, all of us have found ourselves wishing for a time, in the not-so-distant-future, when “this will all be over” and “things will return to normal.”

That kind of wishful thinking was on full display over Memorial Day weekend, as Americans tried our best to celebrate this national holiday with the same traditions we’ve observed since childhood.

Most of us ended the long weekend with the realization that life as we know it has changed beyond measure, and that we are unlikely to go back to “normal.” Many of us wondered what the word “normal” even means anymore.

I believe LeadingAge members came to this realization much sooner than the rest of the country. Working day and night on the front lines of this pandemic changed all of us, forever.

A recent meeting with several LeadingAge board members and business partners made me realize just how deeply some of these changes will affect us moving forward. Here are just a few of the changes mentioned during our call:

Infection control is here to stay. Management-directed infection control efforts will remain an imperative throughout our organizations. In fact, these efforts will be amplified, not just in nursing homes and assisted living communities, but also in affordable and market-rate apartments.

Employees will be the main event. Having a quality workforce that is well trained, dedicated, and focused is the main benefit we provide to older adults who need long-term services and supports. We’ve always known that, of course. But no one, inside or outside our organizations, is likely to take workers for granted ever again.

New roles are emerging. Over the past few months, we’ve all taken note of people in our organizations who emerged, perhaps unexpectedly, to help us meet unprecedented challenges. Activity directors, in particular, have outdone themselves by engaging deeply with residents, easing their loneliness, connecting them with family members, and journeying with those who, sadly, became sick or died. Perhaps it’s time to redesign the role of the activity director, and give that role a more encompassing title, so that the profound gifts activity directors are bringing to residents during this pandemic will continue to enrich our organizations long into the future.

These and many other observations and changes—the greater acceptance of telehealth, for example—would probably have happened in the absence of COVID-19. But it would have taken 5 years, not 12 weeks.

We’ve learned a lot since March. And we have a lot more to learn. This isn’t over yet.

I’m convinced that looking backward, and hoping for a return to normalcy, won’t get us where we need to go.

Instead, let’s keep our eyes straight ahead, focused on a different future. Let’s resolve to pivot and adapt as needed.

If we can do this, we will emerge from our current crisis as different people and as different organizations. And, I believe, we will emerge stronger than ever.