Whether young or old, health care has evolved for every patient through the pandemic.
And while it’s been a year of ups and downs, those in the industry have done what they could to continue providing services at the best possible level of care.
The effect on the senior population
At the onset of the pandemic, seniors were labeled high risk of not only contracting COVID-19, but also having the most severe illnesses, which quickly led public health officials to direct them to self-quarantine.
Since then, seniors have faced disproportionate loss, illness, stress and isolation.
Due to the lockdown, services like Comfort Keepers provide in-home care to seniors for their activities of daily living saw a decline in business, according to owner and President Myles McNamara.
Comfort Keepers is not a home health care provider, which provides medical services, instead, the company provides assistance with taking already prescribed medications, keeping up with their personal hygiene, making sure that they’re eating nutritious meals, staying hydrated, light housekeeping, as well as transporting them to doctors’ appointments or other errands, McNamara explained.
“We’re more of a concierge, or a personal assistant, that allows you to still be the boss, but it allows you the independence to stay in your own home,” McNamara said.
That’s why when the lockdown hit, families were able to take over those duties as they, too, were told to quarantine at home.
“All the families created their own quarantine bubble, if you will, and the adult children who were staying at home because of the lockdown would take care of their parents and do what they could on the home care level, so we did see a decline in in request for service and the suspension of existing clients during that the height of the lockdowns,” McNamara added.
Comfort Keepers gradually has seen a gradual return to services, which closely parallel the number of reported COVID-19 cases. McNamara expects to continue to see those figures as the senior population begins an anticipated dramatic increase in the coming decade.
Data reported by the U.S. Census Bureau suggests that by 2030, all baby boomers will be older than 65, with the size of the older population expected to explode so that one in every five Americans is projected to be of retirement age.
In fact, when the SCV Committee on Aging and Los Angeles County performed a needs assessment in 2019 when deciding whether to create a new senior center in the community, they found that there were expected to be more than 9,600 additional seniors in the community within the next four years, raising the total to 42,000 by 2022.
The county is expected to create an Aging Department by October, which has a goal of improving the lives of the county’s older adults with disabilities.
Improving home health care services
The pandemic actually allowed Facey Medical Group to develop a home health care system to keep as many patients home as possible while case numbers surged.
“I think what Medicare and others have learned from this is that there are patients that overwhelm the hospital that we could manage the home,” said Dr. Joe Chambers, chair of the department of immediate care at Facey. “So, I think you’ll see in the next decade the result of that is what we’re calling ‘hospital at home.’”
For example, patients who simply needed oxygen would be given take-home devices, and were then monitored remotely, only to be admitted to the hospital if conditions worsened, Chambers said.
This has led to Facey setting up a priority clinic, where they are set to take patients in the emergency room, urgent care or hospital, figure out what they need, and setting that up for them at home.
This is not just a Facey push, Chambers added, but a national one in order to decrease hospital admissions.
“Those kinds of processes will be much more slick, and much more common,” Chambers added. “It’s going to be very different.”
As with other industry innovations brought on by the pandemic, such as telehealth, these changes were coming and were simply accelerated by the immediate need.
Impacts of COVID-19 on mental health services
Fear, anxiety and stress was at an all-time high during the pandemic, which naturally increased demand for mental health services.
In fact, about 4-in-10 adults nationwide have reported symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder — a four-fold increase from pre-pandemic levels, according to a Kaiser Family Foundation study.
With this comes increased substance abuse and suicidal thoughts, and while reported domestic and child abuse cases went down, incidents, in fact, increased, added Monica Dedhia, program manager of access, crisis and community engagement at the Child & Family Center.
“We were really seeing the full spectrum of reactions on top of individuals that are already struggling with mental health and mental illness,” Dedhia said. “This new layer of COVID-19 and the stress associated with that definitely adds to the challenges that our clients are facing.”
The pandemic also impacted everyone at the center and all of its clients, as the center worked to quickly transition to virtual services.
“There were definitely some barriers there, not only with supporting both the staff and our families in adapting to the tech of virtual sessions, (but also) working with families that perhaps did not have access to laptops or tablets,” Dedhia added. “There’s technology inequities with many of our families.”
However, staff were dedicated to finding solutions, increasing public health protocols to allow those who needed to, in order to continue in-person visits.
“Our goal throughout the pandemic was meeting people where they’re at, and if that meant going out into the field or still providing in person as much as we can do that safely,” Dedhia said. “If it was dangerous to provide telehealth or phone we would not move forward. We wanted to make sure that the clients continue to receive the services they need.”