Area Agency on Aging: Outbreaks in long-term care facilities

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By Kay Kaylor
PREVIEW Columnist

I advocate for residents in extended care and assisted living residences as the region’s lead long-term care ombudsman. I also am a Senior Medicare Patrol and State Health Insurance Assistance Program counselor. Information on the many aging and care concerns will be included here. 

Now that at least 36 states are openly reporting the cases and deaths from COVID-19 in long-term care facilities, the public is likely shocked at the numbers. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) report released April 23, the portion of total deaths from the virus experienced in care facilities ranges from 8 percent in South Carolina to 60 percent in Delaware. In Colorado, 17 percent of total cases and 50 percent of total deaths have occurred in long-term care homes as of that date.

Residents of these homes are among the most vulnerable to contagious illness due to age and underlying health conditions, and the close quarters make control of the virus difficult. Advocates such as Justice in Aging and National Consumer Voice are continuously sharing information and contacting lawmakers to seek improvements, such as help for employees and increasing tests and protective equipment.

In 2017, almost 40 percent of facilities had infection control issues found during health department inspections, KFF notes. Due to national directives, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment has postponed its regular inspections to focus on facilities with virus outbreaks or with prior infection control citations. In this region, at least one facility had an April inspection due to a prior infection control citation. 

Families and friends who cannot visit, generally unless a resident is nearing death, must avoid sharing with residents their anxiety, fears and frustrations with the situation. People who are living with dementia will sense these feelings and become upset while also tending to forget or not understand why caregivers are wearing masks, for example, cars are driving by honking or people are talking to them outside a window with a phone. 

The Alzheimer’s Association suggests continuing to communicate with residents, to send cards and treats, and to emphasize how these confusing practices are temporary and for everyone’s safety. It offers information and support through its 24-hour Helpline, (800) 272-3900.

The San Juan Basin Area Agency on Aging offers resources for people age 60 and older or on Medicare. For further information, please call or text 403-2165 or send an email to leadombudsman@sjbaaa.org.