Mrs. Jones was doing well at home but has decided she needs a more supportive living environment. She and her family discuss options, and assisted living seems to be the next step.
Typically, we see assisted living (AL) as the next, least restrictive alternative for someone who needs a little more assistance but wants to retain some independence. Assisted-living environments are governed and regulated by state authorities, but to a lesser degree than a nursing home. Mrs. Jones will be getting her own apartment.
Making the decision to move out of her independent home is a difficult one. Assisted living can ease the transition by providing Mrs. Jones with her own apartment, allowing her to retain her own furniture and belongings, and providing access to nursing care and assistance should she need such help.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, access to long-term-care facilities has been suspended for those who aren’t employees or essential workers. This posed difficulty when Mrs. Jones was seeking out an AL facility and weighing her options. Mrs. Jones and her family utilized Ombudsman services for “selection assistance” to gather information on each facility they were considering. While it is recommended to make visits to facilities you and your family are interested in, the ability to do so at this time is difficult. As such, in lieu of being able to make a physical visit with her family, the facilities that Mrs. Jones was interested in set up virtual visits in order to allow her to make observations and educated decisions about next steps. Through this process, Mrs. Jones was able to determine which AL facility was most appropriate for her moving forward.
The pandemic has also complicated move-in and admission. While Mrs. Jones will be private pay, as is the case with most AL residents, she still is subject to the admission requirements. Additionally, many ALs are requiring negative COVID-19 tests and quarantine upon admission. This move will be a struggle as support from family and friends while transitioning to a new living arrangement will look different than in typical circumstances. Mrs. Jones will be quarantined to her room and not be able to explore her new home for a period of 14 days. She will also not have the ability to have her family stop in and see how she is doing.
As a response, the facility to which she is moving has established a protocol to set up and facilitate virtual visits with family and friends. While nothing can replace the in-person interaction between family, friends, and loved ones, this is at least a way for family to support Mrs. Jones.
During these difficult times, it is important to continue to advocate for your loved ones even if you can’t be with them physically. Whether in a nursing home, assisted living, or their own home, individuals can benefit greatly from video calls and conferencing to keep in touch with family. If your loved one is in a setting where you can’t visit them regularly, it is important to reach out to the facility to determine what they have in place to engage residents virtually.
As always, if you have trouble with these requests, it is important to reach out to the Ombudsman Program (419-259-2891) in order to discuss advocacy options and best practices. These times are unprecedented, and we must all work together to engage our older family and friends who may be isolated to continue to maintain consistent contact. While the COVID-19 response in long-term care is ever changing and fluid, it's important to develop a supportive network that you can rely on, as we don’t know what challenges and opportunities each day will bring.
Next month, we will discuss how Mrs. Jones can utilize Ombudsman services while in her new facility and in quarantine. Remember to be present, reach out, and stay hopeful. Please reach out to the Ombudsman with any questions and concerns, and we will be happy to assist you.
Chris Stieben is Director of the ABLE Long-Term-Care-Ombudsman Program, which can be reached at 419-259-2891 (http://ombudsman.ablelaw.org).