A Coronavirus Wake Up Call

Caregiving Resource | February 26, 2020 | by Dee Pekruhn

As leaders and advocates in the aging services field, we must always give voice to the special needs and interests of the people we serve. With the advent of Coronavirus in the United States, it is even more prescient that we speak up for our older adults, especially as we partner for their care with our local healthcare systems. Below are the emerging predictions of just how severe the virus could be for the people we serve – and our recommendations for partnering with healthcare providers.

A Washington Post article today highlighted, in Italy, what we know as providers to be inherently true everywhere: this virus, like other flulike viruses, is “disproportionately risky for the old[er adult].” Countries now battling the Coronavirus are scrambling to find ways to protect their most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly; one Italian nursing home, for example, has put strict limits on visitors and requires employees to wear masks. Here, we strongly recommend several steps that we as providers can take to proactively prepare healthcare systems and communities for caring for our the people we serve, should and when they fall ill with Coronavirus.

How Can We Partner with Local Healthcare Systems to Prepare?

  • Hospitals: Admissions. Connect with the Administrator of your local hospital. Ask if they have considered the special needs of older adults who are more likely to be admitted with symptoms. Explain the likely comorbidities upon admission, and how to manage those symptoms. Negotiate for ‘priority status’ for your residents’ age cohort, if an agreement doesn’t already exist. Talk about how your organizations will share medical records.
  • Hospitals: Discharges. If you have a SNF, ask your Admissions coordinator to connect with your local hospitals’ discharge planners. Be prepared to discuss what Coronavirus symptoms and levels of severity you are prepared to handle. Emphasize what your capacity for admissions is- and isn’t. Talk about how your organizations will share medical records.
  • Home Care/ Home Health: If your organization relies on external home care and home health organizations, reach out to them now. Learn what their caseload capacity is and ask how they plan to staff cases when or if staff members are unable to work. If your residents are discharged back to IL, or if your SNF is at capacity, are they able to take on additional in-home care cases for your residents?
  • Hospice and Palliative Care: As above, if your organization relies on an external hospice or palliative care organization, reach out to them. See what resources they may have for helping the people we serve and their families cope with the emotional strain of serious illness and loss.
  • Other Local Aging Services/ Housing Providers: You may already have reciprocity or sheltering agreements with local aging services/ housing organizations; now is a good time to review and renew those arrangements. Plan together for how you may give shelter or support to each other’s persons served. Talk about shared staffing, supplies and resources that you can offer.

What Are Shared Concerns to Address with Local Providers?

  • Staffing Needs: The reality is that many of your direct healthcare staff probably also work for some of the above organizations. Talk openly with each provider about how you might negotiate sharing of staff who are employed by both organizations. Because shared staff are likely to call out for personal or family illnesses, it's better to be prepared with an idea of how you might co-manage these shortages.
  • Medical Suppliers: Every healthcare provider organization will be seeking the same array of personal protective equipment, medication, and personal care supplies. While in conversation with other providers, talk about ways to work with shared medical suppliers to ensure your organizations are adequately supported. Perhaps a supplies reciprocity agreement would work; what one has in short supply, the other may be able to offer in a pinch, and vice versa.
  • Comorbidities and Readmission: Because of the greater likelihood that an older adult has at least one concurrent health concern, their risk of serious illness and readmission will be proportionately greater. Talk about shared infection control, prevention and education efforts that may help mitigate these risks, using the resources below.

How Can We Help Our Residents to Prepare for Hospitalization?

  • Educate, Educate, Educate. Our previous briefing gave a great listing of videos, online resources, and printable fact sheets that we highly recommend using.
  • Update their Point of Contact. Ask your residents and responsible parties to update their contact information with you.
  • Update Healthcare Powers of Attorney. Ask your residents and responsible parties to ensure you have their most up-to-date POA and Advance Directive information.
  • Medications List. Encourage your residents to update and keep handy their current medications list. File of Life can be a great resource to help them get organized.
  • Overnight Bag. Suggest that each person keep an overnight bag that is pre-packed with personal items they’ll want, such as insurance and Medicare cards, pajamas, cell phone chargers, personal electronic devices, reading materials, etc.

What Are Other Resources That May be Helpful?


As the novel coronavirus situation develops, and additional resources are made available, we will update and keep you posted! Comments or questions? Reach out to Dee.