States reopen, but senior care facilities aren’t ready
By Joseph Kertis
But this change hasn’t been embraced or even considered to be a positive step by many who are concerned that it’s far too early for such a move. Despite experts’ warnings, it’s happening. Perhaps the most concerned citizens in America are seniors, the ones who are the most at risk. And they should be worried. They’ve been the hardest hit population, particularly those who live in the nation’s nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and retirement communities.
Senior living facilities have been the scenes of some of the worst outbreaks in America. Headlines pour in every day detailing tragedies of mass deaths and infections among residents and workers. And it hasn’t slowed down despite the okay to reopen. In late May an Austin media outlet reported that three central Texas nursing homes have over 100 cases of COVID-19 among staff and residents. For seniors or their loved ones, many don’t understand why things are being allowed to reopen.
It’s not what has happened; it’s what will happen that’s currently on the minds of many who live and work in the field of senior care. These facilities house the highest risk population in the world, so naturally they have a disadvantage. Even worse is their design and construction, which wasn’t made with infectious disease control in mind. But senior care isn’t alone in this deficiency, as the entire medical field has come to the same realization. Since this can’t change overnight, the priority becomes preventing the virus from getting in. Once it gets into nursing homes and assisted living facilities, it wreaks havoc on a defenseless population.
That’s why all senior care facilities made significant changes when COVID-19 first struck, restricting visitors and non-essential workers. Fewer people coming in means less exposure. But it created quite a puzzle, as understaffed facilities now had to answer to hundreds of family members calling in daily to see if their loved one is okay. All of these requests can’t be answered, so people become disgruntled, leading to conflict. With things reopening, many in the senior care industry fear they won’t be able to keep people in adherence with what’s best for the residents, which is to continue to operate as though nothing has changed. Most facilities are either electing or have been ordered to continue following restrictions despite the remainder of the state’s relaxing restrictions. This makes sense, considering they’ve been open the whole time, so nothing is changing for them. Their residents may even be at more risk going forward.
Workers who have been required to follow state restrictions at work and home will now have much more freedom when off the clock. But this represents a significant hazard for facilities which soon will have a much higher risk of exposure. Because of this, many facilities have asked workers to sign pledges that they’ll continue to follow the same restriction they have been even in their personal lives.
Unenforceable, this show off good faith demonstrates the kind of solidarity that these times have brought out in many. Some workers have even started sleeping at the facility to keep the residents and their families safe.
With the latest reports suggesting that COVID-19 could remain for another two years, senior care facilities will need help. It’s unrealistic to reopen the economy without considering the impact that such a move would have on an entire population and the industry that cares for it. Many facilities are struggling financially as occupancy has dropped drastically since the pandemic began. Without financial support and consideration when changing restrictions, there won’t be a system in place for taking care of the growing senior population that will need attention soon. And while many people may think this problem has nothing to do with them, they will eventually rely on some senior care service. If not for them, then for a family member they love. Perhaps at that point, this subject will be of concern. Hopefully, it’s not too late.
Joseph Kertis is an experienced healthcare expert turned journalist. His experience in the field gives a unique insight into one of our nation’s most challenging professions. He utilizes this knowledge in his writing to give an expert viewpoint that spreads awareness through education. He is a featured author of the healthcare website ECDOL.