Those masks you’re stockpiling? America’s seniors need them.

By Sean Kelly, President and CEO, The Kendal Corporation

March 24, 2020—In the few weeks since the novel coronavirus pandemic has shocked the world, senior living communities across the country have taken drastic measures to protect their vulnerable aging populations of residents, not to mention the dedicated and compassionate staffs on the front-lines working to protect and care for these at-risk individuals.

Those of us who live independently can take more dramatic steps to safeguard ourselves against the virus. While many distressingly choose not to, we can self-isolate and avoid altogether potentially exposed people and places. The same cannot be said for the millions of older Americans living in Life Plan Communities, Assisted Living Communities and nursing homes. Their continued health depends not only on decisiveness, coordination and luck, but also on the availability of resources … resources that are becoming alarmingly scarce.

Although this time is assuredly different from any other, in large part, all of these communities have capably risen to meet today’s challenge, building on familiar means and methods. In addition to care, socialization and people-to-people engagement are foundational to life in these communities. Today, activities are canceled, and common spaces are closed to maximize social distancing. Meal services have adapted into delivery models to limit resident exposure. And we have seen many, if not most, communities shut their doors to visitors entirely—a heartbreaking, yet necessary, practice. Staffs have adapted their schedules and their systems, working exhaustively to sanitize spaces and wash their hands raw; they all know their role in limiting infection inside and outside of our communities.

But among my colleagues in the senior-living space, it is becoming increasingly and dreadfully evident that the last piece of the puzzle – resources – cannot be stemmed from inside our communities alone. While behavior change measures can and will continue, materials that help us stem infection among our residents—personal protective equipment (PPE)— are being used at an alarmingly fast rate.

As this unprecedented crisis rolls on, senior living communities across the country will face a critical juncture. Emergency stores of masks and other respiratory protection will be largely depleted, leaving millions of older Americans and thousands of their direct-care supporters at increased risk for exposure.

Americans are showing strength, unity and, yes, charity, in the face of this crisis. Let that courtesy extend to the resources so many of us have stockpiled in anticipation. I strongly urge businesses, our government, local institutions or private citizens with reserves of personal protective equipment to donate some of their supplies – including but not limited to face masks – to their region’s assisted living and nursing homes. Senior living communities affiliated with Kendal are currently accepting supply donations.

We will continue to rise to meet this crisis, and, with the continued generosity of our neighbors, our seniors will have the best prospect of a return to normalcy.

Sean Kelly is President & CEO of Kendal Corporation, which has 13 locally owned and operated senior living communities in eight states.