AARP’s Legal Counsel Provides Programs, Clarity for D.C.’s Anxious Seniors

While one of the inevitabilities of life, if we’re fortunate, remains growing old, there’s no reason why our “golden years” should be any less fulfilling or enjoyable than our younger days.

And despite the toll that COVID-19 has taken on all of us, AARP DC continues its goal of ensuring that older adults and their families in the District live their best lives. The nonprofit organization has state offices in all 50 states, plus D.C., Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with a membership that helps those 50 and older achieve independence, choice and control in ways both beneficial and affordable.

The Washington Informer spoke with Mary Ann Parker, an attorney in AARP’s Legal Counsel for the Elderly service program, about the challenges facing those who reside in D.C.’s long-term housing facilities, including nursing homes:

Washington Informer: Are nursing homes required to inform occupants and their families, or the CDC and the federal government about COVID-19 positive cases among staff or residents?

Mary Ann Parker: Residents who test positive must be notified along with designated family members and there’s a designated hotline as well as dc.gov link provided for nursing homes. Medicaid and Medicare services have guidance for nursing homes and must report all positive cases. The D.C. Department of Health has a regulatory agency for nursing homes and a hotline. This information can be found at coronavirus.dc.gov.

WI: What should families of those in long-term care facilities expect related to screening procedures for residents/staff or when residents show symptoms of COVID-19?

Parker: Residents who test positive are either moved to another room or sent to a hospital; they, along with their designated family member, must be notified of such changes in writing. There should be a procedure in place but some have changed with COVID-19, allowing room for newly-determined time frames. Specific services, like physical therapy, will continue as provided by an outside agency, will continue from what we understand.

WI: Have the rights of residents in long-term care facilities changed with coronavirus?

Parker: Their rights are the same including: to be informed of their care and involved in all their activities; to be involved in group activities, although they’re now adjusted; to be engaged and part of their treatment plan; and to notified orally and in writing in advance if they’re to be moved within their facility or to a hospital.

WI: With visitations suspended, how can families stay in touch with those in long-term care facilities?

Parker: Under the CARES Act, funding for facilities to purchase technology – many are already using Zoom or Facetime on I-pads. In some cases, residents can go down to the first floor and see their loved ones through the window. Communication is important as is remaining connected but with CDC guidance in place, that must be done safely. Some people are even writing letters again to communicate.

Parker encourages staff members, volunteers, residents and their families to call the Office of Long-Term Care Ombudsman for questions, concerns or to report complaints regarding a resident’s treatment or well-fare at long-term care facilities at 202-434-2190.

“We’re brainstorming so that we can stay a real presence, we want to ensure that the appropriate screening for COVID-19 remains in place and we want residents to know they’re not alone,” she said.

>> Washington Informer Article