AARP Arizona Senior Living|Stock Photo

Dana Marie Kennedy is the State Director for AARP Arizona.

Thousands of long-term care facilities in the U.S. have experienced coronavirus outbreaks, and Arizona’s own nursing homes aren’t exempt. Residents are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 due to their advanced age and underlying health conditions. Worse, studies show the fatality rate for those over 80 is six times that of the rest of us. That’s why AARP Arizona is calling for the state to shed light on what is happening in our long-term care facilities, and to take swift and decisive action to ensure the health and safety of residents and staff.

As each day of the pandemic passes, family members, staff and communities are becoming increasingly worried about the health and safety of those inside long-term care facilities. The lack of transparency from state health officials and facilities only adds anxiety.

AARP Arizona is urging its leaders to protect older adults living in long-term care facilities with a range of steps.

  • States must ensure that facilities have the personal protective equipment they need to keep residents and employees safe, like masks, gowns and face shields for all staff.
  • Regulators must require transparency from long-term care facilities so families know the facts about their loved ones. Facilities should immediately report cases of COVID-19 among residents and staff to health officials, residents, families and the public. In addition, Arizona must ensure a coordinated state-wide approach to testing, with adequate supplies and staffing to meet the demand.
  • With strict prohibitions on visitation in place, facilities must proactively work to connect loved ones virtually with video chats or phone calls, and regularly update family members about their loved one’s health and wellbeing.
  • Facilities must ensure that the needs of all residents are met, and have contingency plans in place when staffing is insufficient to meet those needs. The state should require facilities to immediately report when staffing is insufficient and summon assistance, such as deploying the National Guard, to provide care until staffing levels are adequate.

For those with a spouse, sibling, parent, or other loved one in a nursing home, AARP Arizona recommends asking the facility the following key questions to help keep them safe, remain connected, and stay informed:

Has anyone in the nursing home tested positive for COVID-19? This includes residents as well as staff or other vendors who may have been in the nursing home.

What is the nursing home doing to prevent infections? How are nursing home staff being screened for COVID-19?What precautions are in place for residents who are not in private rooms?

Does nursing home staff have the personal protective equipment and training they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe? If not, what is the plan to obtain personal protective equipment?

What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their families or other loved ones during this time? Will the nursing home set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved one by phone or video call?

What is the plan for the nursing home to communicate important information to both residents and families on a regular basis? Will the nursing home be contacting you by phone or email, and when?

Is the nursing home currently at full staffing levels for nurses, aides, and other workers? What is the plan to make sure the needs of nursing home residents are met if the nursing home has staffing shortages?

If you are concerned about the safety of a loved one living in a nursing home, contact the Arizona Ombudsman Program at 602-542-6454 and https://des.az.gov/services/older-adults/long-term-care-ombudsman.

Families and caregivers can also find additional information and resources about COVID-19 at www.aarp.org/coronavirus.

Coronavirus has meant most residents can’t have in-person visitors. But it does not mean families can’t have answers. It’s time for full transparency and disclosure now, because information empowers families to act, speak up, and protect those we love. 

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