COVID-19 has impacted every state in the nation. In Iowa our way of life has changed. Two months ago, who would have dreamed we would have to wear a face mask to run errands, or have to stand six feet away from the backyard fence to have a back-fence conversation with our neighbor. And before we knew the terrifying term COVID-19, who would have believed that a virus would prevent us from being able to spend Easter and Mother’s Day with our elder loved ones that live in long-term care.
The long-term care landscape looks different now. And sometimes that landscape can be unsettling. Beginning in March, significant visitation restrictions were put in place for long-term care facilities. These restrictions keep families and friends from being able to physically check on loved ones in long-term care facilities. Those living in long-term care settings and their loved ones feel the impact of the restrictions. Families are struggling with a way to stay connected, and new ways of facilitating communication must be utilized to lessen negative impacts of these restrictions.
What we need to do is to come at this difficult situation from a different angle. There are many things that can be done during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as after, to promote good, safe care by the facility and to help those living in long-term care combat feelings of isolation. For example, call or video chat with facility staff or administration and ask what is being done to address concerns and learn about extra measures they are implementing during this time. Using technology, such as video conferencing or visiting residents of long-term care through their room windows while talking on the phone, may help to alleviate concerns about their physical and emotional well-being. Many long-term care residents come from an era of written communication. Writing letters and handwritten notes, or joining a pen pal program with residents are welcome options to using technology to maintain communication with loved ones living in long-term care.
The Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman continues to provide advocacy for residents of facilities and can assist in helping to resolve concerns. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman divided advocacy efforts between in-person visits to facilities, and technology and telephone advocacy. In March, the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman staff made a seamless transition to providing advocacy to those living in long-term care via technology and telephone.
To ensure that nursing facility residents are reminded that we can assist them in resolving issues they encounter, facilities will be receiving packets in the mail from our office for distribution to residents. The packets contain newsletters and fact sheets for residents with information on how to contact us in the event they need to reach out to us to get an answer to a question, or to obtain assistance addressing an issue.
Since we began hearing the term COVID-19, we find ourselves in truly unprecedented times. Most of us are learning how to adjust to the COVID-19 situation as we go and find ourselves looking for places to find guidance. In an effort to share information on relevant topics, the Office of the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman has included a COVID-19 In Long-Term Care Facilities website where we are posting COVID-19 information from the State of Iowa, the CDC, CMS and other resources. And please remember we are here to assist with issues in long-term care settings as we have always been and are equipped to accomplish the office’s mission of advocacy for those living in long-term care.
Cynthia Pederson is Iowa’s state long-term care ombudsman.