How We Can Protect Our Most Vulnerable from COVID-19

by Jeff Shaw

By Shane Reeves, CEO, TwelveStone Health Partners

As of mid-July, data showed that 45 percent of all deaths from COVID-19 in the U.S. had occurred in long-term care (LTC) and assisted living facilities. This means that many of our most fragile citizens have lost their lives in these settings, although the number is likely higher because not all states have been reporting numbers for LTC and assisted living facilities.

Which factors led to the most significant issues in nursing homes? A panel of researchers summarized the issues into four key findings:

  • Location of the facilities played a major
  • Asymptomatic spread and lack of testing was a key
  • Quality rating of facilities was not a factor
  • There was no significant difference between for-profit and nonprofit

The report also noted that larger, urban facilities in counties with noted outbreaks were more likely to have reported cases.

For the most part, I believe that skilled nursing and long-term care facilities have gone above and beyond to implement guidelines put out by state departments of health.

LTC and assisted living facilities across the country are working with community and state leaders to find additional ways to protect their residents against the pandemic. Some of the creative ideas that are showing effectiveness include the following:

Offer financial incentives for staff to live on-site

Earlier this year, a Connecticut nursing home provided RVs for live-in staff,in addition to a two-month incentive for those who agreed to remain on site. During the two-month duration, the facility remained completely free of COVID-19.

Implement group testing

A recent article in Scientific American pointed out that scientists may be able to use fewer tests on more people by “pooling samples from many people into a few groups and evaluating pools rather than individuals.” This method of testing has successfully been used in other countries and with other diseases in the past and has shown to be effective in quickly detecting carriers and clearing those not infected.

Reduce social isolation

One of the reasons COVID-19 has been such a tragic disease for our elders is the need for social isolation, which can aggravate chronic conditions, mental health disorders, nutritional risk and more.

One of the goals of LTC and assisted living facilities is to help patients achieve the best quality of life possible in their final years. Social isolation does just the opposite.

One organization in New York implemented an innovative animatronic pet program in partnership with Joy for All Companion Pets to combat the impact of social isolation. This evidence-based program reduces loneliness and increases social interaction by providing an animatronic dog or cat to seniors considered at risk. The organization reports improved outcomes from the program.

Leverage remote monitoring and telehealth

For seniors who are able to stay home, telehealth can support things like remote patient monitoring and chronic care management. Medications and durable medical equipment can be delivered to the home.

Telehealth and remote patient monitoring help providers better assess patients and triage them quickly to the most appropriate care setting. Local agencies can also help patients at home by delivering nutritious meals to reduce the risk of malnutrition.

Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging stepped in after their local senior centers closed due to COVID-19. With their 16 drivers, they deliver between 695 to 735 meals every day, five days a week, across the county.

The LTC and assisted living communities have been on the front lines of this battle from the beginning. With their swift, heroic efforts, they’ve been able to prevent untold numbers of fatalities.

Even as we see the toll the virus has taken on these facilities, we need to recognize the progress that’s been made while also focusing on new ways to prevent such tragedy in the future.


Shane Reeves is CEO and Founder of TwelveStone Health Partners.

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