May is Older Americans Month. The extra recognition is nice; however Older Americans are often forgotten and overlooked the rest of the year. Older Americans today are facing the greatest threat to their lives with the coronavirus pandemic. This is especially true for older Americans who live in long-term care facilities.
Here in North Carolina, we have over 100K adults living in skilled nursing homes or assisted living (adult and family care) facilities. Older Americans, just like Americans of any age group, need to have relationships with others. Fellowship in long-term care includes meals in the community dining hall, time together with activity programs, and visiting their neighbors within the home. With COVID-19, there has been complete visitation restrictions for weeks. Residents have been unable to have visits with their loved ones. Having time with family and friends are critical to Older Americans mental health. Loneliness and isolation are one of the main challenges of living in long-term care and this has been widespread due to the pandemic.
Older Americans in long-term care have been identified as the most at-risk group for coronavirus by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). This is particularly problematic in long term care facilities. In North Carolina, based on today's statistics, these residents account for 20% of confirmed cases and over 50% of deaths attributed to the virus. North Carolina lags the nation on standards of care in long term care facilities. We rank 46th in average nurse staffing hours and 37th in other direct care staff hours. Our tax dollars pay for 72% of all long-term care, yet facilities are allowed to operate with inadequate staffing. We should do better.
FOR (Friends of Residents in Long Term Care), formed in 1987, is an independent, nonprofit advocacy organization working on behalf of individuals residing in nursing homes, adult care homes (assisted living), continuing care retirement communities (CRCs), and private homes who need daily assistance with their social, psychological, medical, or financial needs.
FOR's mission is to empower residents and their families to improve the quality of care in our state by providing a state-wide network of education, advocacy, and support. It continues to act as the consumer voice for these residents and their families and works to improve regulations and support that advances their quality of care and the quality of their lives.
We are all alive because of Older Americans. Older Americans have a wealth of knowledge from their lived life experiences. Older Americans care about others. Older Americans are people, with hearts and spirits. During the month of May (and always), may we give the attention, respect, and care Older Americans are worthy of.
Lauren Zingraff is the Executive Director of FOR (Friends of Residents in Long Term Care).