A CEI aide holds up a We Miss You note to put into a lunch.

Taking Care of Seniors in Times of COVID-19

Changes Demand Creativity

Taking care of seniors in times of COVID-19 takes being creative as the world around us changes. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, everyone had to adapt and get creative with how we live our lives. Taking care of our beloved seniors can be difficult and with the shelter in place orders here in the San Francisco Bay Area, the demand for senior services is increasing in all aspects.

As a result of the SF Bay Area wide shelter-in-place orders, many seniors could no longer visit our beautiful centers to spend the day being social and engaging in a variety of activities. It was imperative that we assessed our strengths. Seniors still counted on the stellar services Center for Elders’ Independence provides. Keeping our participants as healthy and engaged as possible is our driving principle.

CEO Linda Trowbridge shares what you can do while sheltering in place.

Opportunity Knocked Outside the Center

One of our major strengths is having flexibility already built into our PACE programs. We have the ability to customize our services to each individual’s needs and preferences. Thus, we could think outside of the center. Having our own transportation vehicles and drivers was critical to the success. We could deliver what our seniors needed right to their homes very easily.

Key elements are identified as the integrated care teams at each center continually review participants’ medical and living conditions. This deep knowledge gives us the direct ability to keep everyone as safe and supported as possible. Detailed planning and stellar cooperation of our dedicated staff made this transition possible.

Every week, meals, activities, health care appointments and such are all planned out very strategically. Many phone calls are made and the care team meets asking questions such as: Does Mrs. Smith need groceries from the food bank? Is Mr. Jefferson participating in any of the online activities? When is Mrs. Lopez’s next physical therapy appointment? How is the shelter in place order affecting Mr. Chen’s depression? Who needs extra aid right now?

A senior paints a wooden train.

Painting wood crafts are very popular with our seniors in the SF East Bay.

Getting Online and Zoom!

For many older adults, computer literacy, having access to the Internet and/or a device to use on a regular basis can be taxing. There are a number of barriers, especially cost, to overcome in order to be online. Only about 20 percent of our current participants have all three and we are working to increase that number. With the COVID-19 pandemic, our seniors are more eager to stay connected in new ways.

Recently, we obtained a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission to buy tablets and Internet access. With these tools in hand, we are out in the homes with hot spots teaching our participants how to use Zoom to stay connected. By showing the seniors they can have fun and engage online, many of them are excited to join the Zoom events. Seniors add these new computer skills to their independence toolbox. We host a variety of Zoom events weekly.

The most popular Zoom activities at CEI are in order:

  1. Bingo
  2. Self-massage
  3. Trivia
  4. Friday Music Hour
  5. Spiritual Group

The activity staff hosts the Zoom events at each center. CEI is looking at ways to have volunteers to help teach, share their talents or lead an event to bring additional variety.

However, the seniors love to use the iPads to visit with their doctor via Zoom. This is, by far, the best use of the iPads for our participants as they don’t have to leave their homes to get great medical care. We are keeping this valuable service as it is working so well for the elders.

A senior woman does a video chat with daughter.

Getting online for video chats & playing BINGO is fun and super popular with our CEI elders.

Keeping the Brain Active Keeps Isolation Away

Our support makes a difference for our participants. During normal times, being isolated is difficult and with the pandemic, it becomes even more difficult. Isolation can lead to deep depression, loneliness, malnutrition, insomnia, anxiety, fearfulness and despair. Having a familiar face stopping by even if it’s to drop off essential items can make a big impact on one’s outlook.

So while we drop off prepared meals, food bank groceries or provide transportation to a medical appointment, it’s the activity kits that are the highest demand according to our activities director, Andrew Hayes. “The most popular activities are word searches and crosswords, wood crafts, fabric bag painting, and painting. Oh and jewelry making with bead work. The seniors just love them! Sometimes we get asked to bring more in the same week.”

A stack of various activity books on a table.

Word searches and other activity books help keep one's brain engaged and active.

Making All Kinds of Deliveries Throughout the SF East Bay

In three short months (March 23 to June 30, 2020), CEI:

  • Delivered 15,473 meals to participants’ homes
  • Provided 19,204 transportation trips
  • Home-delivered 5,792 activity packets
  • Remotely conducted 2,416 activity sessions
  • Made 10,285 case management phone calls
  • Conducted 495 telemedicine assessments
  • Delivered 362 bags of groceries from food banks

As other local senior services are scaling back, the demand for our services is increasing. We are proud that we can step in to assist.

The Only Constant is Change

We are learning new things about COVID-19. With these new discoveries, CEI will continue to shift and adopt best practices to benefit all who belong here. Currently, our staff is specifically trained for cleaning, sanitizing, and putting on protective gear. Everyone interacting directly with elders is screened for potential health concerns. We take one’s temperature upon entry and ask a few questions. Several times a day, all centers, vans and clinics are cleaned and disinfected.

Plans are being developed for the possibility of seniors being able to return to the centers on a regular basis in small, distanced, masked groups based on their health needs.

CEI greatly modified how we deliver our stellar services in a safe and effective way to close to 1,000 seniors, who need us now more than ever. These changes will have long lasting effects in how seniors are best supported outside of the center as we continue.

We certainly were not going to let a virus stop us in our mission to provide high quality, affordable, integrated health care services to the elderly. All it took was being creative.

A senior couple warmly smiles at their door.

A senior couple receives lunch and activity books at their SF East Bay home. Visits help seniors stay connected to each other and their loved ones.

The East Bay Senior Independent

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