Two Wars Being Fought at Once: Covid 19 and the Media – Please Help!
By David Hahklotubbe, gerontologist
Crisis amplifies the strengths and weaknesses in humanity. Amid all the “We’re in This Together” campaigns laced with tear-jerking candid still-shots and emotion-provoking music and the showering of affection for the “essential workers” such as hospital workers, nurses, doctors, delivery drivers, chefs and store operators, there is a glaring disparity, and it’s nothing new.
While most health care industries are being held in high regard with a positive spotlight shone upon them, once again, the senior care field is negatively portrayed in our media. Since the media is now infamous for their indifference toward reporting “fact”, FIRST, we must set the record straight.
1. Nursing Homes are NOT Assisted Living Communities. While we respect, honor and support our distant cousins through this fight, we have been unwittingly lumped into the same category of care as Nursing Homes. We are not. We have different licenses, we have different regulations, we have different personnel, we have different physical plant designs and we have different clientele. We also have far different statistical outcomes. Nationwide, we have roughly 29,000 licensed communities serving just shy of 1 million clients. As would be expected, given the difference in frailty and physical layout, we have had significantly fewer cases and even fewer deaths. While Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities serve similar populations, mainly seniors, we are distant cousins. However, the media commonly lumps us all together. Fundamentally, Nursing Homes are just that, homes that are founded upon the medical model and are run by medical personnel, like nurses, whereas Assisted Living is just simply housing with a component of care commonly supervised by one nurse (not always) and the hands-on caregivers are not clinically trained. As recent as yesterday, I witnessed a reporter spouting discouraging statistics on the overall death toll of seniors in Nursing Homes, while standing in front of an Assisted Living Community. Unacceptable behavior.
2. This event is nothing new to our field, in fact it’s an annual event. Because our population is at the highest-risk, we brace ourselves with proper levels of PPE, infection control training and universal precautions, knowing that around this time each year there will be some sort of outbreak affecting our population. However, this news rarely gets broadcast since it does not affect the general population and they rarely report on the amount of lives spared by our “business as usual”. In recent past, it’s been Swine flu, Bird flu, Rhino Virus, Noro Virus.. and the list goes on. We, of all industries, are the most prepared for these eventualities. That said, in Nursing Homes, you have closed quarters being shared by the frailest of the frail. And despite the heroic efforts, and I mean, truly heroic, the illness has a higher potential to spread, and because of the condition of the host, a higher mortality rate. The situation is far less so in Assisted Living simply due to the difference in population and physical design.
3. While the media prides itself on reporting “Man Bites Dog”, the public forgets this. There are over 15,600 licensed Nursing Homes in the United States serving over 1.4 million patients. Yet, the top story on any news outlet are the spotlights of individual Nursing Homes who have had multiple deaths. To make matters worse, the information being shared is commonly false. If you perform a search right now for “nursing home deaths in US corona virus” you will get numbers ranging from 2,200 to 6,900 deaths in US Nursing Homes. When you dig deeper, you will often notice that the numbers are combining not only Nursing Homes, but Acute Care facilities, Sub-Acute, Memory Care and Assisted Living. The headlines are inaccurate, misleading and irresponsible.
4. Even if the numbers were as high as 6,900, taking into consideration the total population, the level of frailty, the number of patients already on hospice and the unique challenges presented in the care environment, that number should be considered remarkably low and when presented this way, it is clear that a lot of amazing work is being done behind the scenes to keep our frail elderly safe.
Why is all this important???
5. The media is a business. Their business is to prompt you to watch, read or listen to their stories so that their advertisers gain market share. The advertisers are paying top-dollar for exposure to you. Unfortunately, with this built-in conflict of interest, accuracy has not been a main focus of the media, nor has the best interest of the public. Fear is often the mechanism by which they get your attention. The obvious immediate negative impact of this irresponsible behavior is that our vulnerable seniors are watching, reading and listening to these stories and are becoming more and more petrified of entering into our Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities, prompting them to stay in their homes far past the point which is safe. Paradoxically, there are no statistics on how many seniors die each year from the poor decisions they made in avoiding Nursing Homes or Assisted Living based on the fear the media fed them. And, if you’ve been paying attention, the media loves to perpetrate upon our industries on a regular basis, leaving us with a constant stream of black eyes and an undeserved poor reputation in the public perception as most stories are generalized across not only the industry, but blended throughout both very different fields. The TRUTH of the matter is that most seniors who overcome this unnecessary hurdle of fear that was created by the media not only report having an improved quality of life, but a regret of not making the move sooner. Again, the stories the media spotlights are “Man Bites Dog”, you will rarely if ever, hear a story of salute for how many lives are being saved, how many lives are being improved and how many families of these elders are grateful for the incredible services that our Nursing Home and Assisted Living personnel are providing while risking their own quality and quantity of lives. We need to rise up, truly live the mantra “We’re in This Together” and with a resounding and resolute combined voice, praise all the work these otherwise unsung heroes are performing while taking the shelling from the media. It’s time to turn the tide and support the report of truth and stop the unnecessary fear. Take some time today and let our Nursing Home and Assisted Living workers hear your voice of support. They are fighting two wars at once, Covid 19 and the Media. #NursingHomeStrong #AssistedLivingStrong