Nursing home task force to recommend volunteer corps, tracking app

The Summit County, Ohio, task force also suggested strategies for mitigating future pandemics, including a PPE dispensary and pandemic-designed facilities


Akron Beacon Journal
By Emily Mills

SUMMIT COUNTY, Ohio — How can conditions and experiences in long-term care facilities be improved for residents, families and facility operators in Summit County?

The Summit County Nursing Homes and Facilities Task Force, which is examining the condition of long-term care facilities in the county and advocating for change, is exploring options ranging from a Peace Corps-style "Elder Corp" to an app for families to check in on their loved ones.

Nursing home patients account for nearly 3-in-4 Ohio coronavirus-related deaths. Image: Lisa DeJong/Plain Dealer via TNS
Nursing home patients account for nearly 3-in-4 Ohio coronavirus-related deaths. Image: Lisa DeJong/Plain Dealer via TNS

The group, which was created before the coronavirus pandemic, began discussing the draft outline of its report during a virtual meeting Tuesday.

Members plan to create the final version with immediate, intermediate and long-term recommendations by October and release it to the community in November, with plans to implement some of the recommendations by early 2021.

The report was initially due by the end of the year but was moved up as the pandemic continues to strike long-term care facilities particularly hard.

"Nothing's prioritized yet," said Summit County Council President Jeff Wilhite, who chairs the task force. "That will be up to us collectively as a group. What do we think are the most important points?"

To improve staffing issues, which the draft report called the "number one issue," education, training and recruitment for STNAs should be improved, the task force said.

Suggestions include an STNA training program with Stark State College and secondary education programs on health care; a transportation program for STNA students to get to classes or work once certified; and multicultural, language barrier training for better communication.

Two groups could further address staffing and other issues. The Elder Corp, a community volunteer group, would be made up of people interested in health care either as a career or a volunteer. The pool of volunteers could assist area facilities with nonmedical care, like wheeling residents to meals or spending time with residents, freeing up time for professional staff to complete required tasks.

The Multiple Language Interpreters Corp would help incorporate cultural aspects into residents' environments, art and music, as the group said cultural food and language barriers are often overlooked in facilities.

To improve communication, suggestions include a secure app to allow families to check in on their loved ones at any time, with facilities posting information for families daily, and a blog on elder care.

To ensure residents are being treated fairly and appropriately, the task force proposed creating a bill of rights for long-term care facility residents, strengthening the resident council concept and establishing a process to enforce or enhance protections for residents who may be retaliated against for making complaints to family or officials about their treatment.

The task force suggested establishing and maintaining a personal protective equipment (PPE) dispensary for future pandemics for county facilities and visitors. The task force also suggested focusing on pandemic practices, control and prevention and training.

Other focus areas include telehealth and advocating for aging in place.

Long-term suggestions include mandatory automatic door openers in all facilities and pandemic-designed facilities, as disease can spread quickly in congregate living settings like long-term care facilities.

Summit County Probate Court Judge Elinore Marsh Stormer noted many of the suggestions centered around educating the public and proposed that as a focus of the group.

Susan Sigmon, senior vice president of long-term services and supports for Direction Home Akron Canton Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities, said she'd like people to "know us before you need us."

"People tend to wait until an emergency before they are really scrambling to figure out what community resources are available," he said.

The task force — which has committees on staffing, legislation, operations and visitation of facilities — had three meetings before the pandemic. Staffing was a prominent focus at each.

Three of the task force's meetings were postponed by the pandemic before the group reconvened in June.
Summit County Council approved creating the task force last August. The idea for the group came about after a June report listed a Copley facility that closed last summer, Fairlawn Rehab and Nursing Center, among the worst in the nation.

Future virtual meetings are scheduled for Aug. 18, Sept. 15 and Oct. 20. All start at 10 a.m. and will be live-streamed on the Summit County Nursing Homes and Facilities Task Force Facebook page.

(c)2020 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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