Wilson and the committee developed protocols and education materials to reduce infection rates in senior apartment buildings, including: ramping up testing and contact tracing; standards for how and when to quarantine; basic guidelines for distribution and use of personal protective equipment (PPE); and education on handwashing, masks, sanitizing and social distancing.
COA then compiled and sent education kits to each building. In addition to specific information and tools for building management, kits included enough education materials and reusable face masks for each resident in every building – more than 8,700 residents in all.
The kits were well-received, according to Judy Eschmann, COA’s Vice President of Community and Business Operations and the architect behind the database. “This was the first time anyone had reached out to many of these buildings with specific information and guidance about COVID-19,” Eschmann said. “We’ve received lots of feedback from building managers who were happy to have information and masks to share with their residents and to know that someone was concerned about their health and safety.”
COA created a resource page on its website where building managers could access electronic copies of all the materials included in the education kits, as well as additional resources. And, as the pandemic continued, COA began to host virtual Town Hall meetings with staff at senior buildings, pulling in local experts to share the latest news, information and guidance. Later Town Halls focused on COVID-19 vaccination.
Jenni Miller-Francis, director of resident and health services for Episcopal Retirement Services’ (ERS) affordable living communities, attended the first town hall meeting in June 2020. “I appreciated the information about the infrastructure that is in place in our region to help congregate living communities that are not assisted living or nursing facilities,” she said. “It was reassuring to know that organizations like COA and The Health Collaborative are working on this issue in our communities.”
“We’ve learned that education is a big piece of the puzzle,” Wilson said. “Early in the pandemic, we heard that older adults were afraid to report COVID-19 symptoms. Now, we’re hearing that some older adults are reluctant to get vaccinated. If we provide consistent information and connect people to trustworthy resources, we can help stop the spread of this virus in these vulnerable communities,” Wilson added.
Robyn Allen is the lead social service coordinator at Prairie Oaks Village, a senior apartment building in Clinton County, and seven other regional properties owned by ERS. Allen distributed masks and education materials provided by COA to ERS residents.
“I’m a big believer in information,” Allen said. She said both ERS and COA were good about sharing information and keeping staff and residents up to date on what was happening with the virus – everything from scams to handwashing and social distancing. “My goal is to make sure residents have the information they need to stay healthy.”
COA’s work in senior apartment buildings during the pandemic extended beyond education. Beginning in April 2020, COA partnered with local restaurants to deliver COVID-19 “comfort meals” to residents at low-income senior apartment buildings across COA’s service area. COA provided nearly 34,000 comfort meals to residents of these buildings in FY 2020, and nearly 67,000 since the start of the pandemic. Click here to read more about COA’s comfort meal program and the impact it’s had on older adults during the pandemic.
Residents in Allen’s buildings received comfort meals during the pandemic. “We’re out here in Rural America and COA’s presence has made such an impact on our residents,” she said. “We are so grateful and appreciative that COA stepped up during this difficult time.”
Note: COA is currently working with the Ohio National Guard, local health departments, the Ohio Department of Aging and management staff at area senior apartment buildings to prepare building for COVID-19 vaccination clinics. Read more about this effort here and follow along on our website.
COA-led effort aims to prevent spread of COVID-19 in area senior apartment buildings
Recognized as the regional expert on helping older adults remain independent in the community, COA staff members were tapped to participate in local, state and even national efforts to help protect and serve vulnerable older adults during the pandemic.
One such group was the regional COVID-19 Multi-Agency Coalition (MAC). Created by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, MACs include regional organizations and experts that work together to respond to COVID-19 on a local level. Smaller subcommittees in the MAC tackle specific issues related to COVID-19.
COA’s Vice President of Program Operations, Ken Wilson, served as a co-chair for the MAC’s Congregate Care Steering Committee and led COVID-19 response efforts in settings such as assisted living facilities and senior apartment buildings. Other members of the committee include The Health Collaborative, University of Cincinnati Medical Center, emergency management agencies and local health departments.
The committee’s goal was to reduce the number of COVID-19 cases that spread in settings such as senior apartment buildings and assisted living communities through uniform education, prevention and vaccination strategies.
“Focusing on congregate living settings was a priority for the state and our region because most COVID-19 cases that were going to the hospital were coming from congregate living settings, such as nursing homes,” Wilson said. “COA is the local expert in serving older adults so it was natural that we were tasked with working with senior apartment buildings to protect residents and prevent the spread of the virus.”
COA developed a database of approximately 175 senior apartment buildings in its service area of Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton and Warren counties. The database helped COA understand how many people lived in each facility and provided a way to track COVID-19 cases among residents and staff.