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Protecting Our Elderly During the COVID-19 EpidemicProtecting Our Elderly During the COVID-19 Epidemic

Our senior citizens are rapidly being isolated and quarantined in skilled nursing facilities or assisted living residences waiting to see if and when the COVID-19 virus will strike. Many such facilities, already strained by understaffing and overpopulation, are beginning to crack under the strain. In Everett, WA, four facilities are confirmed to have COVID-19 cases in either staff or residents; three residents have died so far, all of whom had underlying health conditions. On March 25, 2020, according to USA Today, in Woodbridge, New Jersey, all 94 residents of a nursing home are presumed positive for the Coronavirus.

In response to the outbreak, convalescent homes, skilled nursing facilities, and rehabilitation centers are barring visitors as an added precaution, hoping to keep the virus from entering. Meanwhile, facilities are scrambling to find gloves, masks, and gowns, all of which are in short supply. Staff members are increasingly staying home, thereby overtaxing and overworking the ones who do show up for duty.

According to the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), as of March 23, 147 skilled nursing facilities in 27 states have at least one resident with COVID-19. The situation is likely to get much worse.

Mark Parkinson, President and Chief Executive at the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, observed that “The grim reality is that for the elderly, COVID-19 is almost a perfect killing machine.”

Because of the rapid spread of the virus, Elders in assisted living facilities over the coming days and weeks will increasingly face isolation, potential neglect, and anxiety as they are being cut off from family and friends. At such a moment, there are things which we recommend families do that may make the situation more tolerable:

  • Stay in touch remotely by phone. Even if a loved one in a facility has diminished mental capacity, hearing a family member’s voice can still be hugely beneficial. Make an extra effort to call – perhaps every few hours if the resident has direct access to a telephone.
  • Use FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom. All these platforms allow multiple people to connect. If a senior in a facility has access to a smartphone or tablet, make sure the right video tools are installed, and that staff will assist so that your loved one can use them. Many seniors have a phobia about technology, but the truth is that these devices are incredibly easy to use. They just take a little getting used to.
  • Install a Granny Cam. If you still have access to a facility and are permitted to do so, consider installing a Granny Cam right away. As we wrote about in January, “Granny Cams are an inexpensive insurance policy families can give to their loved ones.” Even if it’s just a one-way video feed, you and your family will feel better if you can see that your loved one is being tended and properly cared for at all times.
  • Be extra vigilant. With staffing so thin at skilled nursing facilities during this epidemic, check-in with caregivers to make sure proper attention is being given to your loved one. The squeaky wheel does get the oil, and personnel who are on hand will be more likely to take better care of those whose families are engaged and monitoring. Don’t be shy about asking. It’s the job of such facilities to keep families informed at all times.
  • Be proactive. You have a right to ask for and see a facility’s infection plan. Every such facility is required to have one. Especially if no one at a facility is yet sick, it’s a good idea to review plans for what may wind up to be a worst-case scenario.
  • Assume COVID-19 is already present. Given that symptoms from the virus may not show up for two weeks or more from the time of exposure, it’s fair to assume that every facility in the United States has already been exposed. If and when you do visit, take appropriate precautions, for your sake and theirs. Wear gloves and a mask, and avoid being in close contact with anyone, if possible.

And most of all, stay healthy and stay safe.

Attorney Wendy York of York Law Firm specializes in prosecuting elder abuse and wrongful death cases.