As people settle in at home to avoid exposure to coronavirus, it’s easy to forget isolation can be a health danger as well.
Balancing isolation and transmission concerns is no stranger to those in the Senior Companion program or its administrators at the Pima Council on Aging.
Lisa Reams is the vice president of programs and services with PCOA. She said all of PCOA’s programs are running, but they have taken steps to mitigate risks of spreading COVID-19.
“We’re just running them in modified and adaptive ways to ensure we’re keeping the older adults safe in the community while still supporting them,” Reams said.
In the Senior Companion program – a federally funded program that is overseen by PCOA – volunteers who are 55 and older visit seniors who are living independently and provide basic assistance or companionship in their home.
However, the spread of COVID-19 has come with advice that people should practice self-isolation and social distancing.
Reams said they hadn’t lost a single volunteer in the program yet, but clients who receive in-person companion visits had declined “dramatically.”
“All of our Senior Companion volunteers serve at community partner stations – so they serve at other organizations that help older adults,” she said. “We’re working with each of those stations to determine what their individual response is going to be. So we can determine how our volunteers are going to help those that they serve.”
Some of the stations shut down in-person services immediately and are using phone contact, she said.
There have also been clients who have said they don’t want in-person visits as well.
And while some clients declined the volunteers, the bulk of in-person visits were ended by individual stations, Reams said.
“(They) are looking out for the people that they serve,” she said. “And as an organization, Pima Council on Aging is supporting that. We’re practicing social distancing as an organization, and we’re encouraging that in our programs as well.”
She said PCOA is providing information on appropriate precautions for those clients and volunteers who want to continue in-person visits as permitted by their station.
The volunteers receive a stipend from the program and make anywhere from $200 to $600 per month. Volunteers can’t exceed income requirements – 200 percent of the federal poverty level – to participate in the program.
Reams said the federal government had allowed those volunteers who have had their hours cut by stations and clients opting out of in-person visits to continue receiving their stipend for their regular hours.
“(T)he volunteers earn a stipend, and that becomes part of the money that they live on in this program,” she said. “So their not seeing their income impacted by that, at least for the moment, which is nice.”
Reams said there are still phone options as well as welfare checks from caseworkers for those older adults who are no longer getting any in-person visits.
She said the PCOA is pursuing video conference technology as well. However, she said there are issues given some older adults are not as comfortable with or use the technology required to make video possible.
The PCOA is currently recording workshops on Medicare and other topics that the organization is making videos available to clients online to get information to clients while preventing gatherings or physical contact.
However, prolonged isolation might become an issue.
Reams said the PCOA is erring on the side of caution and focusing on reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19.
“For the moment, that’s something we’re taking very seriously,” she said. “But long-term, if a lot of these homebound older adults are becoming more and more isolated because of this, there are absolutely health risks there. And we’ll continue to monitor that and take that into consideration with our programming decisions.”