The Ohio Department of Medicaid is introducing a "friendly caller" program to reduce loneliness among residents in long-term care facilities.
Through the holidays, Ohio Medicaid, Ohio's five Medicaid managed care organizations and the state's Area Agencies on Aging will work together to pair residents with volunteers for 30-minute informal calls twice a week.
The Area Agencies on Aging will train volunteers on how to provide companionship over the phone. Volunteers also will be trained on the UCLA Loneliness Scale to identify residents who made need more intervention. The program will be open to any nursing home or assisted living facility with at least 50 residents receiving services through Ohio Medicaid managed care programs.
"Research shows us that the holidays are an emotionally challenging time for those residing in shared living facilities, a reality exacerbated by months of social distancing and limited interaction with loved ones," Ohio Medicaid Director Maureen Corcoran said in a prepared statement. "We also know that depression can accelerate physical deterioration. This initiative gets to the heart of the matter by offering consistent, caring and highly interpersonal connections that are needed now and throughout the holidays ahead."
Heading into the holiday season, the isolation necessary to protect long-term care residents from community spread will make the pandemic more challenging, long-term care leaders said. Families won't be able to visit residents, group meals among residents won't happen and volunteers won't be able to come in to celebrate, they said. Instead, staff will turn to virtual visits and, in some cases, outdoor visits, said Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, a national association of aging services providers.
"Older adults are living at Ground Zero in the worst pandemic in a century," Smith Sloan said. She and other long-term care leaders are calling on government officials and all Americans to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Since April 15, about 21,000 residents in Ohio's long-term care facilities have contracted COVID-19, about 3,100 of whom have died, according to Ohio's COVID-19 dashboard. In Ohio, more than half of the deaths from the virus have been among long-term care residents. On Tuesday, Ohio saw its second highest daily number of total deaths – 98 – from COVID-19.
Nationwide, positive cases for nursing home residents rose 21% from the first week of November to the second, according to the American Health Care Association and National Center for Assisted Living, which represents nursing homes and assisted living communities. In the U.S., there were 12,429 resident cases the week of Nov. 8.