Many Nevadans who are aging experience periods of isolation due to things like living alone, enduring the death of family or friends, and having limited mobility. Now with Nevada's stay-at-home order, experts on aging say these issues may be exacerbated — not to mention the heightened danger that this population faces with COVID-19.
In response, a new coalition has formed of state, local and private agencies and academia. They are teaming up to provide extra support for elders during this time. KUNR's Bree Zender spoke with Peter Reed, the director of Sanford Center for Aging at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine about the project.
Zender: Peter, can you tell me about these services that make up the Nevada COVID-19 Aging Network or Nevada CAN?
Reed: So for decades there have been community-based aging service providers that work alongside the state aging division to deliver needed services for older adults who are largely at risk. So many of them are low-income or have chronic or physical disabilities that mean that they need support in their everyday life. Things like Meals on Wheels or adult day programs or respite care, a whole host of different services. And suddenly, overnight with COVID-19, all elders are being asked to stay home. Really, all people are being asked to stay home, but older adults in particular have a really elevated risk of severe consequences if they're exposed to the virus. And so this network of community-based service providers, the aging services network in Nevada, is having to dramatically ramp up its ability to ensure that people have what they need to stay safe and stay well at home during this crisis.
Zender: I'm sure this is a much heavier workload than these agencies typically have. How is this coalition going to accomplish all this?
Reed: So the rapid response initiative, Nevada CAN, includes four different action teams. The first action team is to raise awareness and to drive people to the website and to Nevada 211, which they can call on the phone to tell us what they need. So there's an easy form that anyone can fill out, either themselves or on behalf of someone else, to check a series of boxes telling us what needs they have and then we will mobilize the support to help to fill those. Once people tell us what they need, then they get plugged into one of three other buckets of needs. One is around daily essentials, so we'll mobilize the delivery of food, medications, pet food, toiletries, really whatever people need at the county level, to get them that to their home. We also then have a bucket for social support, where we're recruiting volunteers to help us make one-on-one calls, to check in on people and have friendly conversations, and also to stand up some peer groups of people to have either online or telephone conversations with groups of people for ideas and share resources. The third bucket is around telehealth services. So we're delivering geriatrics, telemedicine, social work and any other telehealth service [needs] that people have to really keep them safe and well in their homes.
Zender: So this is a statewide program and physically most of the state is quite rural — so some places might be a bit tough to get to. Are these services also going to be available for rural Nevadans?
Reed: Absolutely. To the extent that they have telephone and internet available to them, then they'll be able to complete the needs survey to tell us what their needs are. Certainly the social support can be delivered via the telephone or via the internet. So we're able to provide that for people in rural communities. The telehealth services are also available through the internet. So people will need to have that technology. Obviously some people will not be able to take advantage of that, but we'll do everything we can to get them support. And then in terms of the food and medication delivery, that's really going to be mobilized at the county level. So [in] more remote areas, there may be some challenges, but we're not letting the pursuit of the perfect keep us from helping whoever we can. We're really trying to mobilize services for everyone that we can reach in the most efficient way possible.
Zender: How much is this going to cost?
Reed: No, there are no fees associated with any of the services that we're going to be delivering. That said, I mean, there obviously are costs associated with purchasing food and medications and those kinds of things. So we are asking for donations and people can make donations through the website to help to support that. Also, for the telehealth services, we'll be working with people's insurance companies. Most older adults are on Medicare and a variety of different Medicare supplement plans. So we'll be working through their insurance providers, but there's no out-of-pocket costs for older adults.
You can find out more about the Nevada COVID-19 Aging Network at nevada211.org or by calling 211.
As a note of disclosure, the Nevada System of Higher Education owns the license to this station.