Fostering Seniors’ Body-and-Mind Health in Times of Crisis
All of the changes and challenges that come with aging serve up enough stumbling blocks on their own. Add to those the separation, fears, and other hurdles that arrived with the COVID-19 pandemic, and seniors are facing unprecedented obstacles, anxieties, and loneliness in their daily lives. What’s more, caregivers are struggling with new stresses and frustrations and need support. Fortunately, in Omaha, a wide variety of services, facilities, and other assistance are available to help seniors and caregivers here maintain sound mental, physical, and emotional health.
For starters, Care Consultants for the Aging (CCA) is helping caregivers get through new challenges by providing them with its annual Omaha ElderCare Resource Handbook, available online at no cost. Care Consultants Owner Kyle Johnson explains that the handbook is an all-inclusive listing of services, programs, and other resources available for the aging in the area. That includes government, medical-support, living options, senior, financial, legal, therapy, elder moving, home health care, transportation, and end-of-life services.
“There are tremendous services available but it’s challenging for caregivers to navigate all the red tape to find and learn about them,” Kyle said. “By delivering them in a clean, understandable fashion in one place, we can help caregivers understand the services, resources, and options that are available locally, especially in a time when caregivers are dealing with new realities every day. With this information, we hope seniors and their families can make informed decisions, which have the potential to enhance their quality of life and independence.”
The ElderCare Resource Handbook includes services that run the full gamut, from medical care to food and nutrition, companionship, pharmacy services, respiratory and physical therapy, respite care, emergency response systems, hospice care, mobility assistance, adult day services, assisted living communities, thrift stores and donation services, relocation consultants, financial assistance for transportation, food pantries, and cemetery and funeral-home resources.
Many seniors prefer to have personalized nursing care in the comfort of their homes, which is why Hillcrest Health Services, which serves 11 counties in Nebraska and Iowa, offers in-home health services to help seniors recover from injury, illness, or hospital stays. In addition to stepping up virtual technologies to maximize seniors’ ability to communicate with family and friends, Hillcrest is maximizing technologies for testing for home-health clients and care staff. Medocity, a leader in virtual-care technology, launched a COVID-19 screening and remote monitoring solution for Hillcrest Health Services in March.
According to Hillcrest Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jim Janicki, the digital platform enables virtual screening of patients, remote monitoring of their symptom, tracking of their vital signs, and interventions personalized for any population, including high-risk patients.
During this pandemic, Hillcrest is able to monitor patients’ temperatures, oxygen levels, and other COVID-19-specific symptoms and quickly identify those who may require additional healthcare attention. The clinical team members also use their own mobile devices to provide self-reported symptom checks and ensure that they are healthy to report to work. Of course, Hillcrest also has taken all other required precautions against COVID-19, including education and training for cleaning, team screening, wearing of personal protective equipment in all offices and locations, and suspension of congregate dining and visitations. While family and friends are prohibited from visiting Hillcrest residents and patients at its facilities, the staff is arranging virtual visits and encouraging family members to engage with their elder loved ones as much as possible.
“The Hillcrest Pen Pal Program allows family members, friends, or anyone to mail kind notes, photos, drawings, and the like, to firstname.lastname@example.org,” Jim said. “Our recreation directors will distribute them to residents as appropriate. People also are free to deliver flowers or other sentiments to the front desk for delivery to residents.”
The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services has awarded Hillcrest Home Care four stars for quality of patient care in the most recently published survey. That surpasses the 3.5-star Nebraska and national average, just another indicator of the superior care Hillcrest delivers to enhance the lives of aging adults.
Personalized Home Health
Home Nursing with Heart is the highest-rated Medicare home-health agency in Omaha, providing skilled nursing and rehabilitation services for patients following a hospital, rehab facility, or nursing-home stay due to surgery, injury, or illness.
“Health is the most personal thing there is,” said Founder Julie Laughlin. “That’s why we put personalization at the heart of home health care. We get to know each senior as an individual as we build their care plan.”
Likewise, and especially in times of crisis, maintaining communication and personal connections with elder clients is critical to their mental and emotional health.
“We can be their support system and reassure them, both by providing critical health services to them and simply listening to their concerns and answering their questions,” Julie said.
Home Nursing with Heart comprises a team of skilled health-care professionals dedicated to excellence in nursing and therapy care at home. As a Medicare-certified, state-licensed home-health agency, the nursing staff can provide an in-home evaluation to establish a plan of care for individuals for any number of situational illnesses or events.
“Our nurses are highly trained, experienced, and have disease-specific clinical pathways to ensure the greatest level of care is provided in all areas and circumstances,” Julie said.
Home-health services include, but are not limited to the following categories: post-surgical care, new disease diagnosis, exacerbation of disease process, recent medication changes, decline in functional abilities, recent hospitalization, transitioning to cardiac rehabilitation, wound vac, and skilled nursing / case management. The organization also provides extensive therapy services, including physical, occupational, and speech therapies, and has expertise and specialty in every area of cardiac-related care. Registered nurses are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
A deep desire to help healthcare workers. A commitment to its community. A decades-long friendship. Those were the ingredients that enabled franchisees of Oasis Senior Advisors to provide plastic face shields for hospitals and skilled nursing facilities across the country.
“We really felt like we could help in a good way, help our partners who need it most,” Oasis Senior Advisors corporate President John Benbrook said.
Benbrook reached out to high-school friend Don Terwilliger, president of Digital Color Concepts, a high-tech printing company based in Mountainside, NJ, to inquire about their operation possibly producing the shields.
“They jumped all over it,” Benbrook said. “They saw the hotspots in New Jersey, New York, and Maryland. It was no mystery to them. It literally took us five minutes to put this plan together.”
To date, the printing facility has produced thousands of shields that have been distributed to Oasis Senior Advisors franchisees who have donated them to 51 hospitals and 91 skilled nursing facilities. Digital Color Concepts has the capability of producing 500 shields a day and could make up to 17,000. The company is making them for hospitals, nursing homes, and food-and-beverage companies. The Omaha Oasis Senior Advisors is owned by Kyle Johnson.
“This is at zero cost to those receiving the shields,” Benbrook said. “There are shipping costs involved, but those are being donated by the franchises distributing the masks. In the face of change and in the face of challenges, you focus on what you can control and where you can have a positive impact,” adding thanks to his good friend for stepping up so quickly. “There is 35 years of trust there.”
In this difficult time, Oasis Senior Advisors franchisees continue to work with senior living communities, skilled nursing facilities and partners in every industry to connect seniors and their families to the right resources.
“In this uncertainty and doubt, it is easy to get paralyzed,” Benbrook said. “Our value is how we communicate. We are finding creative ways to connect to families and business partners through virtual tours and utilizing safety protocols.”
Oasis Senior Advisors is a nationwide network of compassionate advisors who connect seniors and their families to the resources they need and help make the transition to a senior living community that is the right fit. The network has received an A+ accredited rating from the Better Business Bureau, which is testament to the high quality of services and resources it provides. If you know a senior or couple who might benefit from easily accessible services that a senior community could provide, Oasis Senior Advisors has your back, from start to finish.
Maintaining Medicare Support
If you’ve ever tried to fill out applications or supply information for Medicare coverage, you know it can be overwhelming for someone of any age. That’s why Lisa Wilsey partners with Insurance Advisors in Omaha. She helps seniors get the best coverage available for their individual needs, including supplemental insurance, Medicare Part D plans, Medicare Part B enrollment, Affordable Care Coverage plans, life insurance, dental, cancer plans, spend-downs, Medicaid support, and more.
While Medicare plans are her main business, recent trying times has Lisa also helping a lot of seniors who are still in the employment pool secure bridge policies to keep them insured until they can get back to work and on a group plan. Lots of clients of late also are re-evaluating their life-insurance plans and needs, too.
“I guess none of us could have predicted that we’d be facing our current circumstances,” Lisa said. “So it has caused people to take a look at their life insurance to ensure their families are protected in the event of their loss.”
While Lisa has always provided phone support to her clients, the pandemic has given that service a whole new meaning.
“When businesses and schools shut down, my business was no exception,” she said. “My phone service rose to a new level. Since I help clients with Medicare, they are generally 65 years or older, or disabled. This whole thing put them in the vulnerable-population category, so seeing clients in person during this time has been minimal.”
To Lisa, her job is about far more than insurance. She definitely goes above and beyond to protect her clients, and she said her job has highlighted a lot of positive things about today’s seniors in Nebraska. For example, some of her devoted clients offered to help her with a special project in the wake of COVID.
“I enlisted several of my clients to sew masks for others,” she said. “They felt great and helped so many people. I was just the catalyst that matched the mask maker to the need. Working with Medicare truly has opened my eyes to all the love in our community…and to all the need.”
Like many others in industries across the board, Lisa has been meeting with many clients via Zoom and other video-connection services, as well as corresponding more than usual via postal mail—but mostly the phone.
“I’m been calling to make sure they are safe and have what they need to stay home,” she said. “I have mailed more than 300 masks to ensure that, if they do have to go out, they have that basic protection. During this time, taking care of them has become an even bigger priority for me than ever. My work is not just about their insurance, but about their health, safety, and making sure they know they are thought about and loved.”
Lisa said her clients have truly dealt with the repercussions of the pandemic with aplomb, recognizing the importance of distancing to their safety and the safety of their loved ones.
“My advice is to do what you can,” she concluded. “Send cards and call a couple of times a day if you can. We all thrive on interaction with others. I have a few things that I always say. In fact, sometimes my clients tease me about it, but these are things I really believe: Kindness matters, and faith changes everything, which seems especially true in these times.”
Transitioning to the Next Chapter
Shelly Ruwe fills a unique but crucial role in the senior-living realm as the founder of HOMES (Helping Others Move Effortlessly). As a house-to-home concierge, her team assists those seniors who are moving or “right-sizing” from their current house to their new homes, be that a smaller residence or independent- or assisted-living facility. Their services include things like sorting, organizing, packing, moving needed items as chosen by the owner, unpacking, setting up new spaces, including electronics, and other options by request. Because Shelly is in such close contact with seniors for these services, the COVID-19 restrictions have meant some changes for how she operates her business.
“Due to our close contact with clients and caregivers, we have implemented a limited amount of interaction and follow guidelines specific to each community we work in,” Shelly said.
Seniors who she has worked with haven’t really displayed fears or changed their emotional affectations: “I haven’t seen a big change in clients’ outlook on life during this time,” Shelly said. “The comments I hear are more related to how their children are being affected by the change—and they are telling some great stories about how this reminds them of the World War II era or similar situations in their lifetimes.”
In fact, many seniors have learned how to use a variety of new technologies to keep in touch with family and friends, including video chatting and social media: “I take the time to educate and empower them in many ways, such as how to use a smartphone, tablet, iPad, and/or computer,” Shelly said. “It’s incredible how fast they pick up on it with the motivation to stay in touch with their grandkids and other loved ones. My clients tell me they hope the contact they are currently receiving continues after the crisis lifts.”
HOMES’ services remain available throughout the pandemic, based on each client’s needs and restrictions.
“My services are tailored to each individual or couple needing to right-size,” Shelly said. “We discuss options about what to keep, what to share with loved ones, what to donate, and then, finally, what to dispose of. Our team will walk seniors and their families through the process, assist with the process, and/or take over, whatever the request might be.”
Our seniors are the heart and soul of Omaha, and we’re clearly blessed to have such top-notch care facilities and services to keep them safe, healthy, and happy, even in the most difficult of times. Our thanks go out to every person involved in senior care during the COVID pandemic and always! You are truly heroes.