Held annually since 1995 and kicking off on Grandparents Day, National Assisted Living Week (NALW) was recognized during the week of Sept. 13-19 this year.

This annual observance, sponsored by the National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL), provides a unique opportunity for residents, their loved ones, staff, and volunteers to recognize the role of assisted living in caring for America’s seniors and individuals with disabilities.

During NALW, assisted living communities around the country are encouraged to host events and activities to celebrate the residents they serve.

Caring is Essential

Along with their sister nursing homes, assisted Living communities have been hit hard by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite the devastating stories of loss and social isolation many residents have experienced due to COVID-19, there are also many heartwarming stories about the dedication and compassion of staff members devoted to protecting the residents in their care.  

Betty BunnyTo acknowledge this commitment, NCAL announced in June that this year’s theme for NALW would be Caring is Essential. Perhaps more relevant now than in any year before, this theme highlights the role of essential caregivers in assisted living—the certified nurse assistants, nurses, food service workers, volunteers, and others—for their unwavering commitment and hard work.

Honoring Residents

While not all senior living facilities were able to celebrate the week, many communities adapted activities and found new and creative ways to honor both staff and residents during NALW.

Through social media posts, pictures, and videos, they shared their NALW stories. Many events were imaginative and fun, such as facemask fashion shows, tattoo and dress-up activities, fall farmer’s markets and pie-throwing contests, window visits from dairy cows to owls, and ice cream truck deliveries.

Other events focused on community connections such as adopt-a-grandparent programs and special messages, posters, and videos from local school children.

Ingenuity Reigns

In previous years, residents of Somerby Franklin Senior Living, Franklin, Tenn., were invited to the Moore Elementary School for a performance. As this was not possible due to COVID, teacher Amber Anderson encouraged her second-graders to create messages of love on posters to “add cheer into the residents’ hallways, rooms, and hearts.”

Connections were also made via community caravans and window visits, in some cases through specially constructed transparent visiting booths. One family even brought a forklift to raise family members to the residents’ windows on the second floor.

Perhaps the most amazing of all were the innovative “hugging devices” constructed in several facilities. These specially designed plastic curtains enabled residents to safely receive a warm embrace from their loved ones.

Recognizing Staff

Honoring assisted living staff members also took many forms during NALW, from pizza parties and cook-outs to dress-up days, dance contests, and games. The week also offered an opportunity for residents to express their appreciation for staff members through notes, cards, and videos with heartfelt messages of gratitude.

At Chandler Park Assisted Living, caregivers received a special video from residents thanking them for their work and proclaiming staff members “a blessing” and “an essential part of their lives.” Similar messages of thanks for essential caregivers came from administrators, local leaders, and government officials.

In many communities, staff members were presented with special goody bags, fun treats, prizes, t-shirts, and other tokens of appreciation.

Honoring Those Lost to COVIDJulie Scott, Omni West

NALW also provided an opportunity to honor the memory of those loved and lost to COVID. A display of 2,428 pinwheels, set up in a Youngstown, Ohio, meadow, was created by staff members at Omni West Assisted Living in memory of assisted living and nursing home residents who have died from the coronavirus in Ohio.

“I wanted to honor their memory in a way that would be touching; each pinwheel represents someone’s life,” Omni West Activity Director Julie Scott says.

At Maple Pointe in Rockville Centre, N.Y., a special Rock Garden was created to honor community members lost to COVID. New York Assemblywoman Judy Griffin attended the unveiling of the garden and expressed her gratitude for the “compassionate, diligent, and dedicated staff who worked tirelessly during these challenging times to ensure the safety and well-being of residents,” noting that the new garden was a “beautiful way to honor each resident’s legacy and truly seemed to comfort the community in attendance.”

Spirit Endures

The week was recognized in many wonderful and deeply moving ways with the primary focus of honoring the commitment and dedication of caregiving staff and celebrating the lives of residents in their care.

Despite having opened its door five months into a pandemic, NALW activities at Evergreen Village in Fort Wayne, Ind., went full speed ahead. After a week of celebration,  Administrator Amanda Palace noted that “…it takes a village to do just about anything these days, and the village being built here on a foundation of love, compassion, and dignity was solidified last week, and the happiness and positivity was palpable to all who helped us make it a success.”

To learn more or view the many ways that NALW was recognized this year, please visit #NALW, Facebook.com/#NALW, and NALW.org.

Lisa Hohenemser is marketing manager with the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living. She can be reached at lhohenemser@ahca.org.​