Archive for the ‘Pandemic’ Category

Caregiving 101: for those who are new to the role

Friday, November 13th, 2020


November is National Family Caregivers Month. We’d like to thank Caregivers of New Jersey (CNJ) for providing this guest blog.

Many families and loved ones across the nation are held together by the support of their caregivers. Day in and day out, these brave individuals are the ones making the sacrifice to ensure the well-being of so many.

According to “2020 Report: Caregiving in the U.S.,” a May 2020 research report from AARP, there are an estimated 63 million caregivers in the United States, and this community continues to grow. With aging generations needing more to support their healthcare, many people are finding themselves becoming caregivers.

An intimidating role to step into, being a caregiver is no easy task – especially during a global pandemic. There are many struggles and challenges to face. However, as a nation and as a caregiving community, we are united in resilience to meet them head-on.

Over the years, the caregiving community, healthcare community, government and so many others have come together to bring resources to our bravest individuals – our caregivers. Whether in our homes or on our frontlines, there is always help. Let us show you.

Getting Started
The caregiver role can take many shapes. It could be someone caring for an aging parent, a loved one with a disability or even a young adult caring for a relative. You could be getting groceries, helping with physical therapy, arranging appointments, administering prescriptions/medical care and much more. No matter what role a caregiver has, there are several first steps that every caregiver should take:

Get a solid diagnosis: Having an accurate distinction of the disability or medical condition your loved one is facing will help you become a better caregiver. You will have more of an understanding of what you can do and what you should research to provide the best standard of care.

Research: The more you know about the condition/disability, the better. This will prepare you for the care you can provide and allow you to have deeper communication with medical staff. Additionally, you can find and connect with caregiving resources that are more central to the needs you find (see below).

Talk with Family/Loved Ones: It is important to include those who are relevant to your loved one throughout this process. The treatment your loved one receives and how the process is handled can become very personal, and tough decisions may need to be made. Having open and honest discussions can create a better circle of support and understanding as you all go through this together.

Finances: There should be clear outlines of a financial plan to care for your loved one. Again, this involves talking with those who are relevant to the person needing care, as well as medical providers and insurance. Creating a well-thought-out budget will help you focus on the more important parts of being a caregiver, which will minimize stress.

Complete Legal Paperwork: This might include a Power of Attorney, Advance Medical Directives, POLST form, wills, etc. Having these documents completed ahead of time will provide answers to questions down the road if the condition worsens, and alleviate stress. It is always better to be prepared, even if these are difficult conversations to have.

Connect with your Local Community
There are 63 million caregivers nationwide, and you are never far from help. All across the country, there are people just like you who have come together to create resources for the community. Doing some research to find out what is available in your area can be extremely helpful when it comes to answering questions, finding the best care or even just finding someone to listen to. Locating your closest caregiving coalition, such as Caregivers of New Jersey, can provide you with a more personal level of support and resources.

Caring for YOU
Caring for someone 24/7 is no easy job. When you spend so much time caring for others, you may forget to take care of the most important part of caregiving – YOU!

According to a 2020 AARP survey, 26% percent of family caregivers described their situation as “highly stressful.” High levels of stress can take an immense toll on personal health. As AARP notes in their updated May 2020 article, titled “Caregiver Burnout: Steps for Coping with Stress,” 4 in 10 caregivers experience depression, mood swings and resentment due to their position.

There are many resources that can help you avoid this burnout. One of the main things caregivers need is simply time away. This is where respite care steps in. Respite care is short-term or temporary substitute care to relieve the primary caregiver. This can be found through Caregivers of New Jersey, some senior residential facilities, Veteran’s associations, local adult daycares, your local Area Agency on Aging, or even just family and friends.

Do not be afraid to ask for help! The help is there; you just need to speak up for yourself. You cannot be a good caregiver if you cannot care for yourself first. Practicing this “put-your-oxygen-mask-on-first” metaphor is not only better for you but better for your loved one.


Caregivers of New Jersey (CNJ) (njcaregivers.org) is dedicated to providing a central point of contact on caregiving issues, resulting in more effective information dissemination, increased support, awareness and advocacy. CNJ offers a wide array of resources for the caregiving community in counties across NJ, including support coordination, coalitions, and advocacy, as well as training and events. CNJ always puts the caregiver’s best interest at the heart of everything we do.

Caregivers of New Jersey was formed in response to the growing number of caregivers within the state. With more than 1.3 million caregivers in the state, CNJ will work to shed light on the mounting needs of caregivers and the increased need for support.

Grandparents Stepping Up to Assist Grandchildren with Virtual Education

Thursday, June 11th, 2020

 

Dr. Charisse Smith

As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.

On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing*) and strategy (critical thinking).

My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.

As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.

Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert and Doris were invaluable.

COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning

According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who are now participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.

In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas and Blackboard.

Older Americans are teaching/learning, too

Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating and completing school assignments.

One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.

Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails, and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.

Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household and homeschooling an active kindergartener.

I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!

Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise

I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:

  • Having conversations
  • Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor
  • Finding a pattern in the carpet
    • *I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit https://mylearningspringboard.com/subitizing/
  • Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups
  • Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing
  • Coloring in coloring books
  • Listening to books on tape or online together
    • This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book. https://www.storylineonline.net/
  • Teaching them how to play a card game

Other resources to use

Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.

As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!

Dr. Smith is the featured guest on Episode 106 of Aging Insights, with host Melissa Chalker — watch “Learning Together” now!

Dr. Charisse Smith of Trenton earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Professional Studies. She serves on the boards of New Jersey Foundation for Aging and Notre Dame High School, is an Instructional Coach with the Hamilton Township Public Schools, President of ETE-Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township and is the owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC.  Dr. Smith proudly notes that she has been married for 23 years and has two beautiful children!

 

The COVID-19 Crisis at NJ’s Long-Term Care Facilities

Wednesday, May 20th, 2020


We’d like to thank guest blogger and NJFA friend
Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, for her blog post.

By Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care facilities is an unprecedented national tragedy. Around the country, tens of thousands of vulnerable residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died.

In fact, as of today in New Jersey, more than 5,400 long-term care residents have lost their lives due to the pandemic. To better put this into perspective, these deaths are more than half of New Jersey’s total cases.

Not only are the numbers themselves horrifying, but the inability of family and friends to physically be there with their loved ones in their final moments-as facilities were locked down to attempt to prevent more infection-makes it all the more painful and traumatic.

I mourn and hold dear the loss of each of these residents and wish peace and healing for their loved ones. And I am deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the long-term care residents who remain, and about the staff who care for them.

As an independent state agency that advocates for long-term care residents by investigating allegations of abuse and mistreatment, the New Jersey Office of the Long-Term Care (NJ LTCO) Ombudsman has been in the forefront in attempting to help residents and families deal with any issues or problems they may be having during this health emergency.

The investigation process

Usually, when we receive a complaint or concern, we make an unannounced visit to the resident in question and obtain consent to do an investigation.

Unfortunately, those visits stopped on March 13 when the federal and state government decided to severely restrict any visits to long-term care facilities, including by state regulators, families and representatives of the Ombudsman program.

The sudden inability to go into the facilities to witness what was happening there–to see firsthand the staffing levels and the physical conditions­­–and to have to rely on phone calls, FaceTime and other technologies to gain insight into what was truly happening, was very jarring and required some out-of-the-box thinking.

Fortunately, the NJ LTCO has highly seasoned and experienced investigators who have deep contacts in, and experience with, long-term care facilities in New Jersey.

In addition, the NJ LTCO has more than 200 highly trained volunteer ombudsmen assigned to an equal number of nursing homes. Under normal circumstances, these volunteers would be in their assigned nursing home every week, speaking with residents and handling their concerns.

So, even though we are not visiting LTC facilities, the NJ LTCO is well-positioned to reach deep into a facility and identify the right person who can solve problems for residents and their families.

Our volunteers continue to keep in contact with residents in nursing homes and have distributed letters reminding residents that the NJ LTCO is still here to assist them with any problems they may be having.

The dramatic increase in calls and cases

Our investigators have never been busier.

During March and April, calls to the NJ LTCO intake line increased by 40 percent, as did the number of cases opened for investigation.

The types of complaints that we have been receiving reflect the deepening crisis in long-term care. Here are some examples:

  • A woman called to tell us that her 56-year-old sister was on a ventilator, fighting for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The long-term care facility in which her sister lived, she alleged, had refused to send her sister to the hospital.
  • A 71-year-old, bed-bound resident called the NJ LTCO to complain that she was not receiving her medication and that she hadn’t been changed–and was sitting in her own urine for more than 24 hours.
  • A nurse called to tell us that she was the only one who showed up to care for more than 60 residents during an evening shift in a nursing home.
  • A man called to see if we could find his mother, who was COVID-19-positive, had a fever and had been hurriedly moved out of her nursing into another one–with no advance notice to the family. He didn’t know if his mother was dead or alive.
  • A family member called to report that he was informed that his father had a fever, that COVID-19 was suspected and that he was fine. He was called 90 minutes later and told that his father had died.
  • Multiple staff members called the NJ LTCO intake line to report that they were not given proper personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to care for residents safely.
  • Dozens of family members called us to state that their loved ones died of COVID-19, alone and without family by their side. Most of these callers alleged care neglect due to poor staffing.

As this crisis unfolds into late spring and early summer, it appears that there is more PPE and more testing available. These are the two things that are absolutely critical to stemming the tide of this horrific virus and getting to a place where our office, state regulators, and families and friends can once again visit long-term care residents.

Stepping up outreach

In the meantime, here at the NJ LTCO, we continue to adapt to this new reality. While we look forward to the day when we can go back into long-term care facilities, we are stepping up our outreach to residents via newsletters, direct phone calls and utilization of tablets and smart phones.

In mid-May, we began to distribute a resident-focused monthly newsletter to residents of long-term care facilities. In the inaugural edition, we remind residents that they have rights and that they can always call us for assistance. In addition, we remind them that most of them will get a $1,200 stimulus payment as a result of the COVID-19-related CARES Act and that this money is theirs-and no one can take it from them.

Conditions at long-term care facilities; hope for the ensuing months

I wish I could say that the tragedy of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities was totally unforeseeable, but that would not be the whole truth. While the scope and speed at which the COVID-19 tragedy unfolded were certainly new, the conditions in many of our long-term care facilities were ripe to fuel this type of situation.

In the ensuing months, it is my hope that we will see the effects of this terrible virus wane in long-term care facilities. In its wake, I am sure that there will be a clear-eyed assessment of how we, as a society, could have done more to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled people living in residential settings. We have learned much about this virus and the terrible toll it can take in long-term care facilities. My expectation is that we all will apply the lessons we have learned so that we are better prepared for any future outbreaks.

The thousands of souls we have lost and the thousands of vulnerable elderly and disabled people currently living in long-term care facilities deserve at least that much.

For more information on the LTCO, visit nj.gov/ooie/. The LTCO can be reached by calling 1-877-582-6995 or by email at [email protected]co.nj.gov.

Any opinions expressed within guest blogs are those of the author and are not necessarily held by NJ Foundation for Aging.