GEORGE LINIAL/Guest columnist
President Donald Trump has declared our nation at war with the coronavirus, and while we have suffered devastating losses of human life, it seems fairness is also a casualty of this war.
Fueled by the human need to blame someone, the endgame at times has become more about finding fault than finding solutions. And in the midst of the rush to fix blame, truth and fairness have suffered, and scapegoating has become a national pastime.
News reports have focused on multiple incidents and deaths in long-term care facilities from Washington state to New Jersey, painting a dark picture of what really happens inside a senior living community while missing the heroic service of those who work there. Some public officials have even called on families to remove their loved ones from these communities.
At LeadingAge, we believe moving a loved one from a long-term care community can be a significant life-changing event and can have negative health consequences for an elderly person. It’s important to understand that for some residents, the trauma of relocating can reduce access to care and services.
Nursing homes and senior living communities should not be targeted as a culprit in this pandemic. Dedicated workers at senior living communities across the country are taking care of some of the most fragile among us. These health care heroes should be applauded and supported as they continue risking their own well-being to protect older adults.
Nursing home care, by its very nature, is intimate — you can’t social distance yourself when you are bathing, feeding, giving medications, and more. When the virus enters such a setting (usually by an unknowing asymptomatic staff or resident), the virus spreads quickly. By the time one case is confirmed, the chances of more cases on the same floor or in the building are extremely high.
In Texas, more than 11,500 direct-care staff are working in long-term care facilities. The majority of these direct-care staff are Certified Nurse Aides (CNAs). Along with licensed nurses, they are responsible for providing 24/7 care to older Texans with complicated medical needs.
I recently spoke to a nurse from one of our member providers. A veteran of nursing, Kelly Goetz understands the vital role nurses and CNAs play from both a medical and emotional standpoint.
“This is my family,” said Kelly. “When I take care of someone, I am taking care of a person that I know and care about. The same is true for all of our staff. Some employees have been working here for over 40 years. The residents, staff and families here are part of our community and it is my duty to provide the best care possible.”
In the fight against the virus, frontline staff are stepping up to provide emotional and social support while protecting our most vulnerable in nursing homes and other senior living settings. We will succeed in this effort to defeat the virus, but we face significant challenges. Staff and residents at long-term care communities need help to serve and protect.
First, widespread regular testing of staff and residents so that COVID-19 positive cases are found early before they have a chance to spread. These tests need to provide rapid results and be easily accessible to long-term care providers.
Currently, long-term care communities nationwide are finding it difficult if not impossible to secure testing. One of the emerging stories is the shortage of testing for the virus. Securing tests should be a priority and providing those tests to senior living communities is a must. Governments at all levels must step into the gap and make this happen.
Second, adequate supplies of PPE (personal protective equipment) are necessary. Forcing staff to reuse PPE (or go without) in a long-term care setting just accelerates the spread throughout a building. To use the age-old axiom, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, although a cure would be welcome. But in the absence of a vaccine or cure, it is essential we provide PPE for staff in senior living communities on the frontlines of this battle. After all, who sends a soldier into a fight without protection and proper equipment?
Now is the time to value those on the frontlines of this pandemic, especially those taking care of the elderly. They are health care professionals like any other and are committed Texans who are risking their safety and their family’s safety to provide comfort, support, and yes love to those who desperately need it.
Let’s stop playing the blame game and focus attention on providing those who are caring for our loved ones the tools necessary to keep them safe. We are all in this together and should be rooting for each other.
George Linial is president and CEO of LeadingAge Texas, representing not-for-profit providers of aging services throughout Texas.