Updated: Oct 6
By Barbara McGinnis, Certified Elder Law Attorney
As the dust settles on the COVID crisis, we can see what’s wrong with elder care in America. Who can forget the images of vulnerable elderly warehoused in long-term care facilities, isolated from family and friends as the virus raged on? The pandemic did more than just show us that a nursing home is no place to be during a pandemic. It taught us a lot about ourselves and our world. Here’s what I learned.
Remote Work is a Good Idea
The pandemic proved something many of us have long suspected: business doesn’t have to be conducted in person. It can be done just as effectively using Zoom or another video conferencing platform. The courts have learned that many elder law matters (probate and conservatorships, for example) can be done remotely. Continuing education for attorneys, webinars for clients and professionals who refer people to us, and even social events can be done virtually when meeting in person is too risky. This is a good thing.
Estate Planning Isn’t Just for Old People
Thanks to COVID, there’s a new sense of urgency around estate planning. People of all ages were struck down by the virus. Life can be cut short in an instant despite age, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. There’s nothing like a pandemic to drive this point home. We are all mortal, and we all need to get our ducks in a row.
Home Care May Become More Common
The negative publicity related to COVID breakouts at nursing homes in 2020 led some families to put off moving their loved ones to long-term care facilities. This could have far-reaching positive impacts on the way our government chooses to fund long-term care. For decades, public benefits have been oriented around paying for care in institutional settings. Now, thanks to COVID, the concept of paying family members to take care of loved ones at home is receiving serious consideration. As more and more people ask, “What do we need to do to be able to keep mom (or dad) home?” there’s a very real chance that we could see changes in how long-term care is funded. We could see more money allocated to home and community-based services over long-term care in a facility.
America’s Institutional Care Model is Broken
COVID shone the spotlight on some of the most glaring deficiencies in institutional living. Some of these deficiencies stem from poor reimbursement for services through Medicaid; others are the inevitable result of publicly traded corporations cutting staff and services in an attempt to maximize profits. COVID was like a giant magnifying glass showing us the worst things about our long-term care system and its assumption that institutional care is best for older adults and people with disabilities. Hopefully, the pandemic will be a catalyst for positive change.
Lockdowns Can be Deadly
Early in the pandemic, isolating people in long-term care facilities seemed like a good short-term solution to an out-of-control virus. It wasn’t a good long-term solution. It’s my opinion that the actual death count from COVID was probably double what was reported. The official count included those who were diagnosed with COVID-19 and died, not those who managed to sidestep the virus, yet died due to the complications of isolation. There’s a name for this: Failure to Thrive. Thousands of older adults who didn’t have COVID-19 and whose basic care needs were met ended up dying because they were unable to receive love and attention from their family members.
I speak from experience here. My mom was in a long-term care facility when the COVID crisis hit. She died in September 2020. “Failure to Thrive” was the primary diagnosis on her death certificate. I’m certain that the facility met her basic care needs. I believe she died because she couldn’t see me or touch me. I think she felt abandoned. Maybe she just gave up.
COVID-19 was devastating, yet I’m hopeful that some good might come from it. As a country, we may now be more willing to have honest conversations about where we want to receive personal care. Some of us may decide to go to any lengths so we can grow old at home surrounded by the people we love.