In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials and senior center care workers in the Midwest are implementing new policies and activities to best protect older adults considered at-risk of becoming severely ill from COVID-19.
Approximately two and a half million older adults live in assisted living or nursing homes in the U.S., according to The National Center for Biotechnology Information. According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, there have been 776,093 cases in the U.S., resulting in 41,758 deaths, among those cases up to 11% of senior citizens have lost their life to the virus.
Hospitals are taking specific precautions on older adult patients, making sure they are as safe as possible. Sydney Phipps, a scribe at Sparrow Hospital, wrote in a text about the experiences of at-risk patients. “The older adults are being impacted more severely by coronavirus especially the ones (who) are immunocompromised this means that they don’t have the ability to fight off this virus like a normal healthy individual would,” Phipps wrote. “They come into the department in severe respiratory distress and appear to be very short of breath and typically have a fever.”
A direct impact
Judy Walgren, an associate director, professor of practice, Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, editor and curator at Michigan State University, lost her aunt, Anna Patten, to COVID-19 this week, just two days after being diagnosed. Patten, who was asymptomatic for COVID-19, was two years shy of her goal to make it to 100 years of age.
Patten, a resident at a nursing home in Carmel, Indiana was the first woman to ring the bell at the New York Stock Exchange.
“If she could’ve been at home, you know someplace that didn’t have a ton of people coming in and out of her room all the time,” said Walgren over the phone. “Obviously, one of them brought it in, there’s no other way for it to get there. Again, I don’t want to sound like they are awful people … we just don’t even know, there’s no way to track this thing.”
Walgren said the care given to seniors during this time serves as an insight into a larger issue in the United States.
“What I feel has been highlighted or accentuated in this country is the lack of respect that they basically have given our elders in terms of where they spend their final years,” Walgren said. “Then COVID came in and just kind of highlighted that, you know the lack of skilled labor that there is around caregiving and the thought that’s put into it.”
Up until this point, eight of ten COVID-19 deaths reported in the U.S. were adults 65 years and older, according to the CDC.
Dr. Linda Keilman, an associate professor and gerontological nurse practitioner, provides insight into the effectiveness of a temperature screening at senior living homes.
Martha Grimm, 90, a resident at Fox Manor in Waterford, Michigan, said over the phone that as soon as she steps out of her apartment, her and everyone she sees wears a mask. Any employees who enter the building have to record their temperature.
Grimm said she feels “very secure” and “doesn’t worry about anything” because the staff at Fox Manor are doing everything they can to take care of residents.
Nancy Kalef, 86, and her husband Manny Kalef, 90, who live at Meer Apartments on the Applebaum Jewish Community Campus in West Bloomfield also report that staff at their independent living facilty are CDC compliant, containing the spread of COVID-19, as one resident is being treated for the virus at a local hospital.
“They allow us to go out of the apartment only to pick up mail or do laundry,” Nancy said.
Nancy said the Sabbath and other Jewish services are observed for residents in a new manner. “They light candles on Friday night to start our Sabbath which is now done over the intercom,” she said.
Rose Senior Living
Sue Lee, a spokesperson for Rose Senior Living, located in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, said over the phone, a team of interdisciplinary experts implemented ‘anti-COVID’ measures such as a more restrictive visitor protocol, meaning no visitors are allowed unless their loved one is nearing the end of their life, and team members are screened when they come to work and when they leave.
Rose follows ‘physical distancing’ instead of social distancing, Lee said because the Center wants people socially engaged in a safe way. Meals are served to residents in their rooms instead of communal eating. Group events are now individual activities. Activities normally outside of the building or in the community have been canceled.
Lee said caregivers are becoming more creative in maintaining popular activities. “A lot of our focus right now is on helping people stay connected with the people they love but also finding ways to continue to do things they enjoy to do,” Lee said.
One location started doing ‘hallway bingo’ where residents sit near their doors and play the game. Lee said some residents like going to beauty salons, so team members have started making sure residents still get manicures if they want them, just on a more individual level.
Residents started to use tablets, phones and computers to communicate with their loved ones via Facetime or Skype. For some residents, this technology is new.
Lee said Rose deals frequently with contagious viruses such as influenza. Strict COVID-19 protocol is similar to protocol regarding influenza; all emergency personnel must wear proper Personal Protective Equipment upon entering the building.
The staff at Rose locations are given self-care tips for themselves after they leave work. Lee said it’s important to make sure caregivers are taking care of themselves and finding joy in their lives. “The people (who) work with us are really mission-driven people,” Lee said. These people have a desire to serve and help people.
The focus is on COVID-19 preparedness. “We want to assure people that our same team is there today, and they’ll be there tomorrow to care for those we serve,” Lee said. “That is uninterrupted.”
Friendship Village in Kalamazoo
Protocols and virtual communication with loved ones at the Rose Senior Living facilities are similar to those at Friendship Village in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
The mental state of the residents is dependent upon their health conditions, texted Lakeya Cartwright, a certified nursing assistant at Friendship Village. “Most have dementia so they do not understand,” she wrote. “Some are concerned because of the information presented in the news, and some distract themselves by engaging in activities.”
This can be a lonely time for patients, so the hospital makes sure that their senior patients are not feeling overwhelmed or scared. “We let them talk to their family members, daily activities, read books, try to make their lives as normal as possible while living in isolation,” Cartwright wrote.
No residents have COVID-19 at Friendship Village. If it does occur, the senior living home will be prepared. “They’ll remain isolated in their rooms,” Cartwright wrote. “If a patient has a roommate (who) has not contracted the virus, they’ll be sent to another room.”
Clare Luz, an associate professor at the Michigan State University’s College of Osteopathic Medicine, said in a video call that Michigan has had a shortage of in-home caregivers long before the virus began. With the coronavirus, this shortage has been highlighted.
Luz said she is trying to recruit, as a lot of people who are out of work could be a personal care aid. She said it is a hard sell, as there are low wages and potential exposure to the coronavirus.
“If you’re going to send somebody into a hazardous situation, you should be paying them more,” Luz said. These caregivers are not receiving ‘hazard pay,’ as their position is currently a “hazardous position to be in.”
Caregivers seeking clients during this time are not given proper PPE Luz said of the caregivers she talked to, “They would like PPE, they would like hazard pay, they would like help with childcare, transportation, all of those things,” she said.
“It is a time when I believe we can really show the world how important this workforce is,” Luz said. “It always was important, but now they’re being called essential. They should have been called essential a long time ago.”