Report: Critical Role of Service Coordinators During Pandemic

Legislation | December 04, 2020 | by Linda Couch

“Service coordinators played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic in the support of older residents in publicly funded housing.”

“Service coordinators played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic in the support of older residents in publicly funded housing.” This is the summarizing statement from a report by the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University on the role Service Coordinators have during the coronavirus pandemic. The report is an analysis of results from a survey of Service Coordinators by JCHS and the American Association of Service Coordinators.

According to the survey, almost half of the residents Service Coordinators “worked with regularly relied on in-person assistance to accomplish household tasks such as housekeeping, laundry, or errands and 32 percent relied on personal care assistance to meet daily needs such as dressing.” Because the pandemic constrained service providers’ ability to assist residents, the report found Service Coordinators spent more time coordinating services to fill gaps caused by COVID-19.

As new benefits, like the temporarily expanded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), materialized, the report found Service Coordinators helped residents apply for these new relief programs. The report found 38% of Service Coordinators spent more time helping residents navigate benefits as their own needs and the programs’ benefits continued to change.

During the pandemic, Service Coordinators have also spent a lot of time ensuring residents have access to PPE, medicine, food, and household supplies. The report notes that PPE was fairly available by the time of the survey, “Respondents estimated that 40 percent of residents of their properties did not have the food, medicine, or household supplies they would need to isolate for a week.”

Because of these shortages, the report found that, “service coordinators spent much more time on both procurement and distribution of food, medicine, and household goods. Seventy-eight percent spent more time helping residents with the purchase or delivery of food, 46 percent were more involved in the purchase or delivery of medications or medical supplies, and 64 percent were more attentive to the purchase or delivery of household goods.”

The report also found a lack of access to technology and this of access to technology “exacerbated challenges in COVID-19 communication.” “Service coordinators reported that most residents did not have reliable access to the internet. On average, service coordinators estimated that 38 percent of residents had both internet service and an internet-capable device such as a computer or tablet,” the report said.

Service Coordinators also confronted higher instances of loneliness or anxiety and mental health challenges among residents. And, Service Coordinators spent more time than they did pre-pandemic virtual medical care for residents. One Service Coordinator commented that more time was spent figuring out technology challenges than the time spent on the actual medical visit.

LeadingAge continues to urge Congress to enact a $1.2 billion COVID-19 relief package for affordable senior housing that includes relief funds for services, PPE, and building needs as well as $300 million for new Service Coordinators and $50 million for the installation and service fees for building-wide wifi, including in resident apartments.

Access the full report.