Elder Care: Response to COVID-19
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Elder Care: Response to COVID-19

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Earlier this week, I received an email from an organization planning a statewide meeting for professionals who are employed in the long-term care industry. It offered to refund conference tuition for registrants who have health concerns about themselves or their loved ones because of the coronavirus. It is likely that the organization will suffer from lost revenue from the conference.

I wrote back to express my thanks, and to ask the promoter if the organization should not be equally or more concerned about whether such a statewide gathering of professionals might cause cross-pollination of COVID-19 across the long-term care communities of Pennsylvania.

As with many issues, it is far easier to be an armchair critic of others than to make decisions that have personal consequences. It was easy for me to judge that organization as being too self-centered.

Wednesday night, as we were past our normal publication deadline and another column had already been submitted to our editor instead of this one, the president addressed the nation after meeting with leaders of Wall Street. Shortly after that, the NBA suspended its season.

Earlier in the day, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 to be a pandemic. There have only been around a dozen pandemics since the Middle Ages. The only other disease that is currently a pandemic is HIV AIDS.

I realized that instead of critiquing the response of our political leaders or judging what other organizations could and should do, it is now time for our organization to take decisive steps. Some of those steps will be sacrificial, and might seem to be an over-reaction. Since our organization is a thought leader in the long-term care industry, we hope to set an example and encourage other professional partners to do likewise.

Our elder care law team has been struggling with some tough decisions with respect to the pandemic, and here is what we have decided we will do.

We were looking forward to celebrating our 10th anniversary/birthday at a party for our clients in late May. Invitations were not yet printed and will not be. It no longer seems wise to encourage all of our clients to gather together. We welcome any creative ideas our readers might have about how we could more safely celebrate our 10th year birthday.

We will limit attendance at seminars we offer in our own conference room in order to allow at least 6 feet between attendees. Priority will be given to pre-registrants.

We have suspended the monthly communication and education events that we host at our office for professionals who provide care services to aging residents. We did this to avoid the potential of being a source of sharing the germs among our generally healthy and younger professional colleagues so that they may be less inclined to expose their fragile clients to the coronavirus.

We have been discussing a potential “Second Biannual” professional symposium for long-term care and health care professionals. The date that had been penciled in on our calendar is Wednesday, Oct. 28. If you are a professional in the long-term or elder care industry, you might want to save the date and stay tuned.

Generally, our clients are the oldest and most frail members of a family. Potential clients often come to our office, along with one or more of their adult children, who often act as our client’s agent. We have technology to enable video conferencing. If a potential client feels too frail to risk being exposed to potential contagions in our office, we offer that one of their adult children could meet with us at the office, and another adult child could help the potential client to participate in the meeting by watching a TV or computer screen in the safety of their home.

We have doubled down on our efforts to have a sanitary office environment. Our meeting tables have glass-tops. Tables and chairs are wiped down after each meeting. Team members are committed to washing hands with hot water and soap for 20 seconds. A Purell hand sanitizer dispenser is prominently available in our office.

Our staff members will be given an opportunity to work from home if symptoms occur, or if quarantine is otherwise warranted due to personal circumstances. If they choose to do so, income will not be lost from hourly wages on which they are dependent.

I am torn between avoiding the spread of the pandemic, and not creating a panic by “over-reacting” in a way that will cause unnecessary collateral economic damage. For every event that is canceled, hospitality and food service industries suffer. Even if Southwest Airlines, Hilton Hotels and Cracker Barrel can sustain the cancellation of travel and events, what about the lost tip revenue of caterers, wait staff, Uber drivers and other freelance contractors?

As I reflect not as an organizational leader, but personally, I have other thoughts, as perhaps you might too.

Since I am receiving Medicare but also am still part of the workforce, am I an “at risk older person?” I have no chronic illness, but I am overweight and don’t get enough cardiovascular exercise. Am I wrong to assume that the coronavirus is not a deadly threat to me personally?

As the weather warms, my wife and I start looking forward to going to bluegrass festivals and art shows. I wonder whether we will have the same opportunities this year as in the past. What about the musicians and artists who are dependent on these venues as their primary source of income?

As news and advice about the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, we will be available to support the needs of our clients in crisis. We encourage you to email questions or concerns to our office staff. We are hopeful that our quick decisions will contribute to containment of the coronavirus, and resumption of our normal practices in the near future.

Learn more about the article’s author, and other community education opportunities, at www.keystoneelderlaw.com. Check out the book, “Long Term Care Guide: Essential Tools for Solving the Elder Care Puzzle,” at the Whistlestop Bookshop or Amazon, and see Keystone’s free directory of services for older adults at www.mypeaceguide.com. Keystone Elder Law has offices in Mechanicsburg and Carlisle. Call 717-697-3223 for a free telephone consultation.

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