Leaders express concern over impacts of isolation on seniors in Hampton Roads

Posted at 3:33 PM, Nov 18, 2020

HAMPTON ROADS, Va. - COVID-19 has had a dramatic impact on seniors across the country.

Virginia Senator Mark Warner (D) held a virtual discussion with Hampton Roads senior living facility CEOs and state health officials who are focused on keeping our senior population safe amid the surging number of COVID-19 cases in the Commonwealth.

The virtual call included Keith Hare, President and CEO of Virginia Health Care Association and Virginia Center for Assisted Living; Steve Zollos, CEO of Senior Services of Southeastern Virginia; Jenny Maugeri, Executive Director of Atlantic Shores; and Ben Unkle, President and CEO of Westminster-Canterbury on Chesapeake Bay and Senior Options, LLC.

They discussed concerns over retaining staff, fear of litigation and rising insurance costs.

They said the pandemic has put a financial strain on their organizations.

They also said seniors being isolated and segregated is a major concern among all of them.

“We have seniors that haven’t been out of their homes in eight months,” said Zollos.

Zollos works with many seniors living in the community. He said they have set up programs where they call seniors twice a day to check on them and deliver activity packets to them.

He said they have drastically increased the number of meals being delivered to those in the community.

While protecting seniors from COVID-19 is important, they said keeping them away from others and their loved ones is having a devastating impact.

“The isolation and segregation of people is causing unbelievable hits to people's health - both the emotional and physical health - for residents,” said Unkle.

Unkle said they have not any COVID-19 cases at his facility, but he is worried about the impacts of keeping seniors away from others.

Leaders cited issues with weight loss, depression and loss of cognitive ability among seniors who have been in isolation.

They said it’s proving to be fatal in some cases.

“The biggest unreported story is the death toll, which you can get through other broader statics than our local ones - the death toll and health deterioration from the pandemic without an infection,” said Unkle. “What this pandemic has done to them - the secondary disease from this pandemic - and that doesn’t necessarily involve an infection.”

Maugeri said her facility has not had a problem with COVID-19 outbreaks; however, there is concern about the mental impacts of fear and isolation the pandemic has caused.

Related: Tips to keep senior citizens from feeling isolated during pandemic

They say the pandemic has caused an enormous amount of financial stress for their facilities. Now, they are trying to come up with creative ways of helping the seniors with engagement, such as technology and virtual ways of connecting.

“The name of the game is creativity and safety, and I think our industry has been so focused on safety for fear of lawsuits and fear of deaths [that] we have forgotten and not paid enough attention to the need to be innovative about all those people who are suffering from the cure,” said Unkle.

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