How living in a community keeps senior citizens protected during this pandemic

Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities
Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities

The actions of a manager or a leader (and these are two different things) are the consequence of his/her life experience, training and acquired knowledge. The challenges that COVID-19 presented to us at Columbia Pacific Communities was unprecedented, and none of the stakeholders could claim to have had prior experience in handling the developing situation as we mounted our defence against this as yet unknown enemy.

What we did have going for us was:

The experience and guidance of our residents – seniors with a wealth of knowledge, experience and maturity.

The collaboration and cooperation of the Resident Committees with whom we shared the vision of isolating the Community and residents from the external environment.

The on-ground leadership of the Frontliners, the Resident Managers of the Community and their respective teams, whose commitment, passion and dedication to the Company Dharma of “Unconditional Love, Respect and Care” for the residents have made this fight possible. 

We had a support structure backed the Frontliners with all the resources, material and otherwise, that they needed in their endeavours. 

A nation-wide lockdown that gave us much needed time to get a better understanding of the virus, its behaviour and the steps that we needed to take to best prepare ourselves.

And finally, the knowledge and experience of the various colleagues and members of the Association of Senior Living in India (ASLI) that was leveraged by creating a forum for everybody’s benefit.

Guided by the first advice that came from the Prime Minister – “Precautions, not panic,” and with the advantage of the time that the lockdown provided, we proceeded to first educate ourselves and then the Frontliners, the residents and the Resident Committees on the steps that we would jointly take in order to ensure that we ring-fenced the Community and completely insulate and isolate both the residents and the service providers from the external environment.

During the early days of the pandemic and lockdown, the quantum of information – good, bad and mad was rampant.  Columbia Pacific Communities is fortunate to have Columbia Asia Hospitals as its Health Partner.  We collaborated with them to produce content that was credible, accurate and in language that was simple but came with the proven expertise of medical professionals.  This content was shared with residents and the Operations team through the respective Community WhatsApp groups providing them with actionable knowledge that gave them a sense of being in control and peace of mind – both of which have a direct impact on a person’s immunity levels.

Many of the decisions by service providers were neither easy and nor were they always popular.  However, the goodwill and credibility earned over the previous years and the trust that all measures proposed they were conceived and executed with the best interests of the residents and the Community at heart allowed us to gain the whole-hearted acceptance in implementation by our residents. The purity of intent and the honest execution on the ground has ensured that the Communities continue to benefit from the active and enthusiastic support of the residents for the protocols that have been put out and implemented over the past months.

With nine communities in five different cities, the protocol in place at each Community has differed based on the circumstances prevailing in their specific locations.  The clarity of understanding of the virus and its behaviour has allowed us to put in place protocols that have even been more stringent than those mandated by the local State governments.

It is not as if we have not been confronted with setbacks and unanticipated developments in this ongoing battle. However, credit must be given to the Support Structure that backed the Frontliners. Potential and possible scenarios were “gamed” and steps were taken – both proactively and in preparing contingency plans that allowed us to be prudent. The Operations leadership and their steady hand on the rudder have ensured that no matter how strong the headwinds or heavy the squalls – our ship has held steady and on course to the calmer waters that is our destination.

As you would imagine, our residents have a higher than average need to consult with their doctors – who by nature of their profession are more exposed to the virus. In order to minimise the exposure to doctors and hospitals, we arranged for teleconsultation sessions whereby residents could get the medical advice they need without stepping out of the Community.

Arrangements were made to ensure that the supplies which required contact with the outside world were arranged by team members of Columbia Pacific Communities.  Everyday essentials such as newspapers, vegetables, fruits, grocery, dairy, medicines were received, sanitised as applicable and then delivered to the residents by the respective resident teams at the communities.

Many residents use their smartphones to stay in touch with their friends and family through FaceTime or WhatsApp. For the less tech-savvy residents, we had our Wellness team members arrange video interactions with their loved ones. The impact of this gesture on our residents’ mood and morale was heartwarming. Never have our residents welcomed our nurses and their daily check-up sessions more!

Finally, as a matter of abundant precaution, we designated Isolation Rooms within the Community. These rooms were equipped with necessary services and amenities so that any resident feeling unwell could be isolated and treated within the Community, thereby reducing their exposure risk. Many of our residents have recovered from minor ailments in these rooms where doctors visited them and prescribed medicines. They were nursed back to health by our Wellness team, thereby minimising the risk factor for their partners and the rest of the Community.

As we know, defeating this enemy is not going to be possible until there is a cure for the illness it causes, or there is a vaccine that prevents one from getting ill. It is for this reason that the fight is going to be a long one.  

Much like the signs, one sees on the hairpin bends when driving in the mountains and the Prime Minister’s advice as the nation has started to unlock, we must remember that “Saavdhani hati, durghatna ghati”. The aim of the message is not to scare people, but to convey that until the time a cure or a vaccine becomes available to us, we must mount an insurmountable defence.  

Hence, it becomes increasingly important that we do not just leave the fight to the Frontliners. Each of us should be a warrior. Every one of us should be an active combatant. Life, as we know it, has been threatened by this enemy. Hence, we cannot be mere spectators. 

All of us must practice the three-step mantra that will ensure our defences stay up: 

  • Wear a mask in public 
  • Maintain physical distance 
  • Constantly and properly ensure hand hygiene  

We are confident that together, we will overcome the pandemic.  

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of HelloPost.)


Contributed by Mohit Nirula, CEO, Columbia Pacific Communities- India’s largest and most experienced senior living community operator with close to 1600 residential units under management in 5 cities and 9 locations across south India.

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