COVID has made the emotional decision to choose elderly care even more difficult

In the spring of 2020, the deadly dangers of COVID-19 became evident, and Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins advised families with elderly loved ones in nursing homes to bring them home.

His recommendation, while perhaps unrealistic, was well-meaning and fact-based. Elderly care communities were dangerous places in the first year of the pandemic. Almost a third of deaths in the United States from COVID-19 have occurred among residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Seniors living in these facilities make up around 1% of the population, but to date they account for 40% of deaths, according to a New York Times To analyse.

But the reality was (and still is) that the average family cannot safely provide the 24-hour home care that some seniors need. Our staff and volunteers at The Senior Source’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program guide countless families through the complex and emotional decision of choosing a long-term care facility for a loved one, and we’ve seen how. the pandemic made this decision more difficult with emotion and fear, even with the vaccine available.

Seventy percent of seniors will need residential care, from short-term rehab to lifelong care. Here are some new factors to consider when choosing a healthcare facility in a post-COVID-19 world:

Infection protocol

In the early months of the pandemic, personal protective equipment was hard to come by, as was COVID-19 testing. Vaccines were not available. Caregivers and staff in long-term care facilities have themselves been at risk, and many are still traumatized by their experiences. By the way, staff shortages still persist in these communities.

Among the wide range of residential care for the elderly, from unregulated independent living to state regulated nursing homes and memory care to federally regulated skilled nursing facilities, the death rates due COVID-19 increased with each level of care. In a study by NORC from the University of Chicago, the death rates of independent elderly communities were comparable to those of other elderly people living in the same geographic area. But death rates were higher in assisted living and memory care communities, and they were even higher in skilled nursing facilities.

So why were nursing home residents so vulnerable to COVID-19? At least in part due to the health of the elderly living in these settings, people with chronic diseases like heart disease or diabetes are more vulnerable to COVID-19. Memory care communities were particularly difficult as many residents were unable to comply with infection control precautions such as wearing masks.

So now, seniors and their families considering long-term care options must add infection control questions to their long list of concerns when shopping for a facility. What is this community doing for infection control? What are their procedures? Are there sufficient staff to ensure compliance with infection protocols?

Our ombudsman program staff and volunteers regularly visit nursing homes and assisted living communities in Dallas County. We monitor complaints related to infection control as well as cases of abuse or neglect. Sharing what we have learned about the nature and frequency of complaints in any community helps families have as much information as possible to make a wise and life-giving decision.

Vaccination mandate

When the vaccine became available, priority shifted to residents and staff of nursing homes and other retirement homes.

Our ombudsman staff were so relieved because they have experienced countless cases where entire facilities were locked down because only one staff member brought the virus into the community.

Seniors and their families are entitled to ask and deserve to know the immunization status of staff and residents of a facility they are considering. The government now requires nursing homes to offer vaccines to all staff and residents and to publicly report their immunization rates. You can access this information at Medicare.govThe Care Compare website.

Although non-federally regulated communities of care are not required to report their immunization status, some tout their immunization rates in their marketing. If you don’t see any pricing information for a community, you need to ask.

Your right to visit

To protect residents from COVID-19, elderly care communities have closed their doors to visitors and suspended communal meals and other resident activities, two actions that have had devastating effects.

The social bond is essential to the well-being of seniors. According to the Health Resources and Services Administration, loneliness poses a health risk to seniors equivalent to smoking 15 cigarettes a day. For many seniors, meals in the communal dining room are the highlight of their day, and activities are the primary source of exercise and social connection. Without these, the resulting isolation had very serious health effects.

We heard from family members whose elderly loved ones developed depression, signs of physical decline, or emotional distress during their quarantine period. We have heard heartbreaking stories from families who have been unable to visit their loved one in their final hours.

Families, you have the right to visit loved ones in long-term care facilities, and our ombudsperson program staff are here to advocate for those who are denied access. Fortunately, on November 2, a constitutional amendment was passed to allow families to designate an “essential caregiver”, family member or friend, who can visit an elderly person at any time, regardless of status. Resident’s COVID-19 or any community emergency pandemic.

Of course, we recommend balancing the need for security and infection control with the very real need for human contact. But as a dying grandmother or father, it is just plain inhuman to refuse to visit family.

To our Dallas seniors who were fortunate enough to live long enough to see William Shatner go to space, and their families who have the responsibility of caring for them, know that you don’t have to look for a safe and healthy living situation. alone. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it’s that we’re better through things, together.

Stacey Malcolmson is Managing Director of The Senior Source. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News.

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