The news surrounding COVID-19 has been unrelenting and unpleasant. Each day, new reports come in about deaths, confirmed cases, and questions surrounding how much longer this might go on. In keeping with the novel coronavirus’s trend, more bad news was announced recently as experts turned in their official predictions for what we can all expect moving forward. And it’s safe to say that COVID-19 isn’t going away anytime soon.
Recent studies suggest that one round of national social distancing practices will not be enough in the long term to conquer the virus. It’s expected that COVID-19 will remain for two years or longer and that we’ll likely see peaks and valleys as outbreaks occur, subside, and repeat.
Eventually, the theory is that herd immunity will occur as enough people are exposed, and this will ultimately curb the spread of the virus naturally, but this could take years. Until then, it appears we can expect to have more and more versions of what we’ve just seen, hopefully diminishing in size each time. This could mean periods of social distancing and lockdown followed by periods of relaxing those restrictions as cases dip below a predetermined threshold.
For people in their teens or twenties, this probably seems excessive or like something that doesn’t need to be worried about. But for seniors and those whose loved ones are aging or have health conditions, this prediction spells out a nightmare. The senior community has been ravaged by COVID-19, particularly senior care facilities like nursing homes and assisted living facilities. Each day new headlines detail the carnage that’s occurring across America in these communities, with some facilities experiencing over a hundred positive cases and up to 70 deaths. It’s estimated that across the country, more than 10,000 residents of long-term care facilities have died from the virus.
Residents not yet infected, and their loved ones have been holding their breath, waiting for things to improve. But it looks like things won’t be improving for the highest-risk demographic in the world, those age 65 and older. With COVID-19 lingering out there for the foreseeable future, it would seem that senior care facilities will be at continued risk for accepting patients with the virus, and it is easily spread with their communal-like settings. But what a lot of people don’t know is that COVID-19 positive patients are already being put into nursing homes and other long-term care facilities intentionally.
Most senior care facilities survive due to their relationship with hospitals, which often send patients there to convalesce until fully recovered when they can return home. This frees up space in hospitals and allows nursing homes to make enough profit to remain viable. With COVID-19, some hospitals are so overwhelmed that states are forcing them to discharge patients who’ve tested positive for the virus to nearby nursing homes. This is to make space and handle the demand for new patients. In states where it isn’t mandated, they’re still paying nursing homes $1,000 per day to accept these patients, a price which many struggling facilities can’t refuse.
COVID-19 has done a number on the senior care industry. Move-ins are down as much as 50 percent below this time last year. If this practice continues, nursing homes will never be safe. They already house the highest-risk population, in perhaps the least ideal setting possible for a pandemic like this. Now they’re importing the virus. And since the end of March, they’ve been on virtual lockdown. Once their vulnerability was exposed after a significant outbreak at a facility in Washington state, the CDC released new recommendations for how to prevent COVID-19 in long-term care facilities.
This included restricting all visitors and non-essential workers. For many loved ones, this has created significant concern because they cannot always contact residents and determine if they’re safe. Often, the understaffed facility can’t keep up with the flood of concerned queries, and people are left wondering if their relative is still alive.
Other facilities are asking families to come to pick up their loved ones. Overwhelmed, understaffed, and concerned that they can’t provide the best care possible, some nursing homes have asked families if their loved one can move back in with them during this time. But while this may be safest for those who haven’t become ill yet, it could also mean sending a COVID-19 positive senior home to infect others and possibly die. Most families are not equipped to be able to provide end of life care to someone, especially while protecting themselves and others from coronavirus.
Ultimately, something will need to change soon, or a complete disaster will ensue. We cannot continue to treat the highest-risk population as a receiving pool for hospital overflow. Nursing homes and other senior care facilities are only as safe as they keep the virus from coming in. Obviously, an industry cannot survive with closed doors, so governmental funding should be focused on keeping the senior care industry afloat. At the same time, additional resources need to be found to handle hospital overflow.
Given the predictions that COVID-19 will be around for a while, a new plan must be developed to keep our senior population safe. It’s not as though they deserve it any less.
Marcel Gemme has dedicated his life to helping others find help. He started his career in the field of substance abuse 20 years ago and has helped countless families find proper rehabilitation and treatment for their loved ones. He now focuses his attention on helping individuals find long-term senior care through his journalism, community outreach, and his website, ECDOL.org. Excellent Care, Decency, and Optimal Living are what he aims to bring to individuals looking for care options for themselves or their aging loved ones.