By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Social distancing may curtail the spread of COVID-19, but it brings its own drawbacks, one of which is the hesitancy of many seniors in seeking care from their providers for ongoing conditions.
Considering the higher risk seniors have of contracting COVID-19, some concern is warranted — and that is the take-away message that has made a deep impression on many older adults who have chosen to stay home as much as possible during the pandemic.
“There was a lot of anxiety and fear when the pandemic hit in March,” said Joelle Margrey, clinical nurse leader and vice-president of skilled nursing at Loretto.
Though initially providers wanted to delay any care that did not involve a life- or limb-threatening condition, COVID-19 is now better understood, infection rates are down and providers know how to reduce the risk of transmission.
“At this point, I feel that people are comfortable and confident with what we have done to make sure of everyone’s safety and wellbeing,” Margrey said. We’ve been provided a lot of research and information. The New York State Department of Health has given information we’ve integrated into our policies and procedures.”
These include guidelines on using personal protective equipment, masks, social distancing and increased medical office cleaning protocols to keep residents safer. Anyone interested in Loretto can virtually tour the facility; in-person visits have not returned.
News stories with dramatic accounts of sickened seniors and climbing infection and death rates may make staying home the better idea until the pandemic goes away. However, Margrey encourages older adults to not further delay medical care, as delaying care for a health issue — even one not urgent — can mean worse outcomes.
Fortunately, between telehealth and routine in-house physician care, Loretto residents seldom need to leave for healthcare.
“Anything we’re unable to accomplish internally, we use telehealth,” Margrey said. “Telehealth has been a tremendous asset. We have it internally and when they’re discharged from short-term rehabilitation, we set them up with telehealth at home. Once they become familiar with the equipment, they have a real sense of security and reduction of anxiety because they can have someone at the touch of a button. They don’t have to worry about transportation.”
It has been so well received that Margrey plans to continue to distribute telehealth equipment for discharged patients and to use it within the facility.
During the height of the quarantine, most providers began offering telemedicine to resolve as many routine cases as possible. Things such as podiatry, optometry and dental care may be safely delayed for a short time for most patients; however, it is important to take care of these healthcare needs now, before a problem develops. Seniors especially should seek vaccination for flu and pneumonia.
At The Centers at St. Camillus, Michael Connor, relationship development coordinator, said that residents receive routine care in-house.
“Those who have medical appointments in the community are usually accompanied and assisted by our nursing and medical transportation staff members, whom residents and patients often know, have personal relationships with and trust,” Connor said. “These staff are also required to undergo weekly testing, increasing the comfort level of both residents and their families.”
Of course, clients’ needs for medical care varies; however, they should feel free to address any concerns they have for their health with a medical provider without worrying about COVID transmission because of physicians’ heightened use of personal protective equipment and sanitation protocols.
“All the efforts taken have proven to be successful, with no positive cases in almost three months,” Connor stated in October.