Care Coordination in the Age of COVID

How has COVID-19 changed things for older adults and the families who love and care for them? We posed this question to Kyra Clements, one of the elder care coordinators at Elder Law of East Tennessee, a Life Care Planning Law Firm with offices in Knoxville and Johnson City, Tennessee.

Kyra says that lockdowns have created some of the biggest problems. “One of the hardest things has been helping people feel connected,” Kyra said. “Many seniors are feeling the effects of isolation, including depression and weight loss. It’s hard on everyone.”

As an elder coordinator, one of Kyra’s major roles is to serve as an advocate for her elderly clients. In COVID times, where personal access is limited, this involves pushing for new ways to help families stay connected. “Most facilities have been really good about allowing residents to Facetime or use devices like Amazon Dot to connect with family members,” Kyra said. “The problem is that high tech solutions don’t always work well for people with cognitive issues.”

In these cases, Kyra advises a return to low-tech ways of communicating. She sends greeting cards via U.S. mail and advises family caregivers to do the same. “I also encourage families to create care packages for loved ones who live in long-term care facilities.”

Since facilities have restricted in-person access, it can be challenging to assess how well a resident is doing. Kyra often uses a client’s weight as a yardstick of wellbeing. In one recent case, Kyra was told a client’s weight. Three days later, this client ended up in the hospital where her weight was listed as 37 pounds less than what she had been told.  “She didn’t lose that much in three days,” Kyra said. “The facility gave me incorrect information. Before COVID, family caregivers could see with their own eyes how a loved one was doing. Now, you can’t. A phone call or a Zoom call just isn’t the same.”

Kyra believes that COVID has laid bare an uncomfortable reality about America’s long-term care system. “Even on the best day, before the pandemic, there were big problems,” she noted. “Understaffing has been a problem for a long time, which means residents don’t get as much personal attention as they might need. Staff members don’t always get the training they need. Facilities were overwhelmed before; the pandemic has made everything that much worse.”

Working with a Life Care Planning Law Firm can give families a way to ensure loved ones get good care despite the shortcomings of the system. “I know the staff at every local facility, and they will check on residents when I call,” Kyra said. “They are good to go the extra mile for me, which gives families extra peace of mind.”

Making the decision to place an older relative in a facility can be challenging in the best of times. A pandemic makes it even harder. Working with an elder care coordinator in a Life Care Planning Law Firm helps families avoid wasted time and costly mistakes. “Most people aren’t aware of the various processes that facilities are going through to accept people,” Kyra said. “I’m aware of them.  And if there's a really bad outbreak at a facility, that’s something that the family and I can discuss before moving forward.”

Families are grateful for the support. “Our clients say that a load is taken off their shoulders when we start guiding them through the process. The support is even more important during COVID times.”