How Florida protects its senior population during the COVID-19 pandemic
Updated: May 26
Florida has the largest percentage of senior citizens in the U.S. at 17.3% of the state’s population based on the 2010 census, according to Thoughtco. The number of senior citizens living in Florida before the coronavirus outbreak was 5.5. million.
Florida has over 30,000 cases of COVID-19, the potentially deadly respiratory illness plaguing the world. Over a thousand people have died in Florida, and Miami-Dade County has the most deaths at 278 as of this writing.
Throughout April and continuing into May, senior citizen organizations are doing all that can be done to aid and protect those living in assisted living communities by providing them with food, shelter and safety from viral and financial threats.
Limiting contact with essential personnel is one straightforward solution, according to Pam Wiener, the director of the Guardianship Program for the Florida Council on Aging.
“No one goes out and no one goes in except the people who work there and provide direct care,” Wiener said.
“At the time when it started, people were being screened, visitors were being screened and they're temperature taken, but that's no longer a possibility,” Wiener said.
That new limitation was in Wiener’s words “a double-edged sword.” This would lead to new difficulties in providing food and supplies to these communities.
Rebecca Roberts, the director of communications for the Florida Department of Elder Affairs, referred to a series of public notifications and press releases to extrapolate on the department’s efforts during the medical crisis
According to Roberts and Richard Prudom, the Florida Department of Elder Affairs’ Secretary, the department is working with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to provide seniors with safe access to food. Obtaining food for anyone has become more difficult due to the mandated social distancing during the pandemic.
“Originally, there were meal plans that existed for older adults in assisted living facilities, through county programs that were both federally and locally funded,” Wiener said. “Those programs have been shut down because people congregate in adult daycares or in a congregate meal setting.”
Wiener pointed to the Pearl Mae Foundation and the Meals on Wheels of the Palm Beaches, which involve volunteers delivering food and essential supplies in place of the meal plan programs.
“They’re protected and using protective gear, but I don't know if they're necessarily screened with a laboratory test,” Wiener said.
Roberts mentioned Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody’s work with several senior organizations in the financial protection of the elder demographic. Along with the Florida Council on Aging, these include the American Association of Retired Persons, Association of Mature American Citizens and American Seniors Association.
In an online video conference, Attorney General Moody made plans to protect seniors against scams, which can come in cyber, telephone or text message form alongside counterfeit products, fake door-to-door testing, offers of fake virus care and phony charity donation solicitation.
Another protective measure that, in Wiener’s opinion, isn’t being done enough is testing for COVID-19 in senior citizens.
“If testing was available, then all the care settings could reopen,” Wiener said. “If people could be tested and if we knew that they were fine, then they could be less socially isolated, probably better nourished, better stimulated and have a better quality of life during this time”.
This has led to perhaps an unavoidable consequence of the protective measures being implemented: social isolation for the senior population.
Wiener considers it “extremely challenging” for family members who aren’t allowed to visit the assisted and continuous care facilities despite how much physically safer it’s become for all involved.
On that front, there’s Project VITAL (Virtual Inclusive Technology for All), a joint movement between Florida’s government and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs that gives seniors a way to relieve deleterious symptoms of social isolation.
Project VITAL provides video call technology and tools for online support. This allows elderly patients to check-in virtually and converse with family and friends from a safe location. VITAL was created with the guidance of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other than the lack of testing being done, and some unavoidable discomfort brought on by social isolation, Wiener believes that the response from the state government and various senior citizen organizations has been satisfactory thus far.
By Benjamin Wainer