Ohio’s Six Most Urgent COVID-19 Gaps

Posted on 05/08/20 by Natalie Zuccarelli

Young woman holding a globe with a face mask on it - Conceptual Coronavirus Covid-19 virus pandemic - Heart shape is drawn on the mask.

While effective changes have already been made to protect Ohioans of all ages during the COVID-19 outbreak, there are still critical gaps that need urgent attention. AARP Ohio is focused on making legislative asks that will protect older adults throughout the state. To accomplish this goal, AARP recently brought the following key issues to the attention of the General Assembly:

1. Access to Personal Protective Equipment & Testing ­– Currently, health care workers and first responders in Ohio are experiencing shortages of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). The state must take the steps to provide additional PPE in nursing homes and assisted care facilities. Usage and availability of PPE is crucial in preventing the spread of the virus, especially in congregate communities of older adults. Proper testing must also be made readily available for those living in these communities to further prevent the spread of COVID-19.

2. Virtual Visitation CMS (Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services) and the Ohio Department of Health have understandably prohibited visitation in nursing homes and care facilities. However, requiring nursing home residents to go without seeing visitors puts their mental, emotional, and social well-being at risk. The legislature should request these communities to make technologies for video conferencing and communication available for residents. Virtual connection with loved ones is essential in this period of social distancing to prevent feelings of isolation and loneliness. For many residents, virtual visitation may be the difference between life and death. The state should tap into federal funds to provide these resources in facilities; virtual communication is mandatory for residents to stay connected with family and friends and maintain their social wellness.

3. Extending Certain Emergency Policies – The state has made recent decisions in response to COVID-19 that should be either extended or made permanent. Particularly, the moratorium of utility shut-offs should remain to ensure that older Ohioans have access to work, education, and loved ones during the presence of the virus. Reliable and safe utilities in all homes are essential so that older adults can comply with the stay-at-home order and prevent the spread of the virus while still staying socially engaged.

Additionally, expanded unemployment compensation must be extended for those who do not receive paid leave. This is a critical issue for AARP members to be aware of as older workers are often forced to look for lower-paying jobs or part-time work without healthcare benefits.

Finally, permanently expanding telemedicine options for older Ohioans would bring considerable benefits. Permanent expansion of telehealth services could provide access to health providers and specialists, as well as allow efficient sharing of clinical information.

4. Telecommunications & Broadband At a time when teleworkers, remote students and the demand for telemedicine are all increasing, access to telecommunications and high-speed internet networks is critical.

Those living alone, as well as residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, who are seeking ways to stay connected to family, friends, and medical care must have access to virtual communication. These options can be essential to one’s emotional, mental, physical, and social well-being. Current legislation has already been discussed, which would help to expand affordable broadband throughout Ohio. Given the circumstances, we believe now is the time to strengthen and act on that pending legislation.

5. Scope of Practice – Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 67 Ohio counties had a Primary Care Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) designation. A county categorized as HPSA indicates that there is a significant shortage of healthcare workers in that area of the state. As the coronavirus is continuously spreading, there is now an even greater shortage of workers on the frontlines of Ohio’s healthcare system. Barriers that prevent advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) from working need to be lifted to address this issue. APRNs have been educated and trained to address issues such as the spread of the coronavirus. Currently, they are required to work under an agreement with physicians which very much limits their scope of practice. If they could work without limitations, APRNs could evaluate symptoms, develop patient care plans, and diagnose those who may have contracted the virus.

6. General Election Voting – While AARP Ohio worked with the Secretary of State Frank LaRose to help raise awareness of the temporary vote-by-mail process caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there is more to do before the November Presidential election. For almost 40 years, the turnout for voters over the age of 45 has consistently outpaced that of younger adults. However, casting a ballot in person could potentially expose older, at-risk adults to the coronavirus. The state of Ohio must prioritize availability of absentee ballots for all registered voters. Until a vaccination has been developed for COVID-19, older Ohioans must have a way to vote without putting their health at risk. Casting a ballot by mail would be especially beneficial for those living in assisted-care facilities and nursing homes, and would ensure that residents can still vote with confidence.

To find more information about AARP Ohio's recent legislative advocacy and to receive email action alerts about the issues you care about, visit www.aarp.org/getinvolved

This story is provided by AARP Ohio. Visit the AARP Ohio page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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You can find CDC’s latest coronavirus information at cdc.gov/coronavirus; AARP information and resources are at aarp.org/coronavirus. En español, visite aarp.org/elcoronavirus.

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