AARP Rhode Island Shows RI Facilities Remain Hotbed for COVID-19

Published in RINewsToday on February 14, 2021

As the Rhode Island Health Department (RIDOH) announces that cases of COVID-19 are declining and is loosening up restrictions on the reopening of bars and our social gatherings, AARP Rhode Island warns that the state’s nursing homes remain a hotbed for COVID-19 infections, and the “death rate remains disturbing.”  Rhode Island’s largest aging advocacy group calls on the General Assembly to take action this session to enact legislation to protect facility staff and residents. 

Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 162,000 residents and staff in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have died nationwide, and nearly 1.3 million people are known to have been infected with coronavirus in these facilities. Rhode Island has recorded 1,430 deaths in skilled nursing facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and other eldercare facilities.
On Feb. 11, AARP Rhode Island released its Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, the data revealing that the COVID-19 pandemic crisis in these facilities still continues despite incremental improvements in all four dashboard categories.

The dashboard analyzes federally reported data in four-week periods going back to June 1, 2020. Using this data, the AARP Public Policy Institute, in collaboration with the Scripps Gerontology Center at Miami University in Ohio, created the dashboard to provide snapshots of the virus’ infiltration into nursing homes and impact on nursing home residents and staff, with the goal of identifying specific areas of concern at the national and state levels in a timely manner.

Taking a Snapshot 

According to the data (Dec. 21 to Jan. 17) from AARP Rhode Island’s latest Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, the rate of new coronavirus cases per 100 residents declined from 15.7 to 10.6 among residents and from 12.5 to 10.6 among staff. While cases are lower than in the previous time period, resident cases remain the second highest in New England in AARP’s dashboard analysis, with nearly four times the cases in Rhode Island nursing homes reported in October and November.

Meanwhile, the latest dashboard data indicated that resident death rates dropped from 2.60 to 1.82 for every 100 people living in a nursing home and that nursing home staff cases dropped from 12.5 per 100 workers to 10.6.The dashboard also reveals that PPE shortages dropped sharply. Shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) have declined from 20.3 percent of nursing homes without a one-week supply to 4.3 percent — the lowest number since the first dashboard report in June, 2020. Staff shortages were relatively steady, dropping from 41.9 percent of facilities reporting shortages to 40 percent.

AARP Rhode Island calls on Governor Gina Raimondo and Lt. Governor Dan McKee to protect nursing home residents and staff from COVID-19. “We are approaching the one-year anniversary of the first known coronavirus cases in nursing homes, yet they remain appallingly high, said AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell in a statement announcing the release of the latest dash data said, “The devastation this pandemic has brought to nursing home residents and their families has exposed fundamental reforms that must be made in nursing homes and to the long-term care system. We cannot lower our guard, she says.

AARP Rhode Island’s COVID-19 Legislative Agenda

The Rhode Island nursing home industry has struggled with quality care and infection control for years. Connell called for Rhode Island lawmakers to act immediately, focusing this year on: 

1.   Enacting or making permanent the components of AARP’s five-point plan:·         

— Prioritizing regular and ongoing testing and adequate personal protective equipment (PPE) for residents and staff—as well as for inspectors and any visitors.·  

—  Improving transparency focused on daily, public reporting of cases and deaths in facilities; communication with families about discharges and transfers; and accountability for state and federal funding that goes to facilities.·         

— Ensuring access to in-person visitation following federal and state guidelines for safety, and require continued access to virtual visitation for all residents.·        

—  Ensuring quality care for residents through adequate staffing, oversight, and access to in-person formal advocates, called long-term care Ombudsmen.

2.      Reject immunity and hold long-term care facilities accountable when they fail to provide adequate care to residents.

3.      Establishing minimum nursing staffing standards.

4.      Ensuring that increases in facility’s reimbursement rates are spent on staff pay and to improve protections for residents.

5.      Ensuring progress is made so that in-person visitation can safely occur and facilitating virtual visitation.

“Additionally, our leaders must reject policies that take away the rights of residents to hold nursing homes accountable when they fail to provide adequate care, Connell added. “Now is not the time to let nursing homes off the hook for abuse, neglect, and even death.”  AARP Rhode Island wrote a letter to Gov. Raimondo, urging her to withdraw her nursing home immunity Executive Order.  At press time, there has been no reply.

As the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic approaches, RIDOH notes that 64 percent of all deaths have women and men in Rhode Island’s nursing homes and assisted living facilities. In the past 13 days, 116 new cases in these facilities have been diagnosed – with 41 new deaths. At weekly updates from Dr. Nicole Alexander-Scott, it used to be that the death statistics were broken down by age, noting how many were lost “in their 60s, in their 70s”, etc. but notably this no longer is reason for pause and expression on condolence.

Unless Rhode Island lawmakers act quickly, older Rhode Islanders in these facilities will continue to be at a very high-risk of catching COVID-19 and the fatality death rate will remain disproportionately high for seniors. As residents receive their vaccine shots, first and second, we in turn hope that the refusal rate of staff to the vaccination is going down.

It’s time to act. 

The full Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard is available at  www.aarp.org/nursinghomedashboard.  

For more information on how COVID is impacting nursing homes and AARP’s advocacy on this issue, visit www.aarp.org/nursinghomes.

Tips on Shopping for a Financial Advisor

Published in the Pawtucket Times on February 8, 2021

As a result of living in times of economic uncertainty resulting from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, retirees are worried about how they can protect their hard-earned egg nest from the volatility of the stock market.  It is even now more important to be working with a financial planner who is watching your back and not putting their interest first.   

Just days ago, the Washington, DC-based AARP launched “AARP Interview an Advisor™,” free resource to help investors to assist investors in evaluating a financial advisor. This new financial tool enables older investors to better assess and understand the credentials of financial advisors and how they are compensated. SEC’s ‘Best Interest Fails to Put the Interests of the Investor First AARP says this online resource was created in response to a Securities and Exchange Commission’s (SEC) 2019 ruling that stopped a long-standing federal regulation requiring financial advisors to put their clients’ interest above their own. 

AARP and other critics of the Final Rule say that it fell short of defining exactly what that term means operationally. “The regulation explicitly states that it does not mean that financial advisors provide a fiduciary standard of care. Despite its name, ‘Regulation Best Interest’ does not require that financial advisors put their client’s interest above their own financial interests,” charges AARP.  The nation’s largest aging advocacy group warns that warns that sound financial advice from Fiduciaries won’t happen without a Code of Standard that requires the best interest of the client. AARP Interview an Advisor™ guides users through process of researching potential advisors and provides them with this valuable evaluation tools to help them evaluate their financial planner.     

Last year, AARP conducted a national survey to gauge investors’ awareness and views of the SEC’s Regulation Best Interest ruling and also their understanding of the fees and expenses they pay for investment products and financial advice.  

The survey findings, detailed in the recently released 27-page report, Should Financial Advisors Put Your Interests First, indicated a need to raise the awareness of the SEC’s new regulation and its impact on investing.  It also became very clear to the study’s researchers that investors require more assistance in vetting current and/or future financial advisors to ensure that their financial advisor puts their interests first and more education is needed requiring investment fees and expenses. 

AARP’s survey of 1,577 adults ages 25 and older who have money saved in retirement savings accounts and/or other investment accounts, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago on behalf of AARP between Aug. 22, 2019 and Aug. 26, 2019 (prior to the COVID-19 pandemic), found more than 80 percent of American investors were not aware of the SEC ruling.  Upon learning about this regulatory change, four-in-five investors (83 percent) opposed the change. According to AARP’s survey findings, nearly 70 percent of investors have at least two investment accounts.

Among those having multiple accounts, 74 percent do not use the same financial institution to manage all of their accounts. The median amount that investors currently have in savings and investments ranges between $50,000 and $99,999. Additionally, 90 percent of investors either somewhat (52 percent) or completely (38 percent) trust the financial institutions or advisors who manage their investment accounts.  

Despite 68 percent of investors believing that they are somewhat (54 percent) or very (14 percent) knowledgeable about their investments, 41 percent mistakenly believe that they don’t pay any fees or expenses for their investment accounts. 

 Can You Trust Your Financial Planner? 

Yet the survey findings note that 58 percent of investors think financial advisors would choose to increase their earnings by selling their clients higher cost investment products even if similar lower cost products are available. “With millions of American families concerned about the financial uncertainty caused by the pandemic, it is crucial for them to be equipped with the best resources and information when selecting a financial advisor,” said Jean Setzfand, AARP Senior Vice President of Programming, in a Feb. 4, 2020 statement announcing the release of the new Financial Planning tool. “The new SEC regulation states that advisors must act in their client’s ‘best interest,’ but falls short of defining exactly what that term means,” she said. “

AARP Interview an Advisor™” is an online resource that provides guidance and a checklist for investors on how to assess the services and standards of financial advisors. Investors are invited to fill out a short survey that evaluates the potential advisor and compares them on a three-point scale. It also provides investors with advice on how to effectively communicate with a prospective advisor, assess their credentials and better understand how advisors are compensated.The COVID-19 pandemic has put many seniors off track in reaching their financial goal of building a big enough egg-nest to provide financial security in their later years.  Now its even more important for you to have a top-notch financial planner who has your back.

To view AARP’s Survey of retail investors about advisor-client relationships and fees, go to https://www.aarp.org/content/dam/aarp/research/surveys_statistics/econ/2019/retail-investor-survey-report.doi.10.26419-2Fres.00342.001.pdf.

Study Takes Look at Decision Making in Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine

Published in the Pawtucket Times on January 25, 2021

Last month, the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccines came to Rhode Island. With limited stockpiles, debate in the state is heating up as to who gets priority in getting vaccinated. While many Rhode Islanders are waiting for the opportunity to be vaccinated, it has been reported that others, including health care workers, are declining to be inoculated. They turned down the chance to get the COVID-19 vaccine because of their concerns it may not be safe or effective.  Now research studies are being reported as how to increase a person’s likelihood to be vaccinated.

Last week, the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project Survey, a group whose mission is to increase public dialogue on vaccine education, released survey findings that ranked preferred locations to receive COVID-19 vaccines, as well as leading information sources that would influence a person’s decision to get vaccinated. 

The CARAVAN survey was conducted live on December 18-20, 2020 by ENGINE INSIGHTS, among a sample of 1,002 adults over the age of 18 who had previously volunteered to participate in online surveys and polls. The data was weighted to reflect the demographic composition of the population. 

The researchers found that nearly two-thirds of the public (63 percent) say they will “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated against COVID-19. The numbers of those indicating they would “definitely” or “probably” get vaccinated varied widely by race. While 67 percent of white respondents indicated they would get a vaccine, the numbers fell to 58 percent among Hispanic respondents and only 42 percent among Black respondents. 

Influencing a Person’s Decision to Get a COVID-19 Vaccine 

This study, commissioned by the Washington, DC-based Alliance for Aging Research, one of the three nonprofit organizations leading the project, found the majority (51 percent) of respondents ranked their healthcare provider or pharmacist as one of the sources most likely to influence their decision to get a COVID-19 vaccine. Almost two-thirds (64 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine in their healthcare provider’s office. 

After healthcare providers and pharmacists, when asked to provide the top two additional sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines that would most influence their decision to get vaccinated, 32 percent of respondents cited nationally recognized health experts, and 30 percent named family and friends. However, older respondents were increasingly more likely (75 percent ages 65 and older) to trust their healthcare provider or pharmacist, followed by 43 percent (ages 65 and older) trusting nationally recognized health experts. 

“While we’re encouraged to see the majority of respondents planning to get vaccinated, we need to continue to educate about the safety of receiving COVID-19 vaccines from various healthcare professionals, including pharmacists in drug stores, supermarkets, and vaccine clinics,” said Susan Peschin, President and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research, in a Jan. 14 statement released announcing the study’s findings.  “It is critical to our pursuit of health equity that all Americans have confidence in and access to COVID-19 vaccines,” she said. 

Overall, the researchers say that survey responses provided important information about the factors influencing the likelihood to get vaccinated and where respondents prefer to receive COVID-19 vaccinations. As to the likelihood to be vaccinated, the study’s findings reveal that about a quarter (24 percent) of respondents said they would “probably not” or “definitely not” get a vaccine, with Black respondents more likely to say they would not receive the vaccine (25 percent), compared to Hispanic (15 percent) and white (13 percent) respondents. Respondents that said they will “probably not” get a vaccine also tend to be younger (13 percent ages 18-34, 14 percent ages 35-44). 

Identifying Preferred Locations to be Vaccinated 

Researchers looked into what is the preferred location to be vaccinated. The survey asked respondents to select one or multiple locations where they would prefer to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The majority (64 percent) of respondents indicated they would prefer COVID-19 vaccination in their healthcare provider’s office, while 29 percent prefer a pharmacy, 20 percent a drive-thru vaccine clinic, and only 13 percent would like to receive the vaccine at a grocery store pharmacy. 

Researchers found a generational split among these options (health care providers office, pharmacy, drive-thru clinic and grocery store-based pharmacy). When asked about their top two considerations, older respondents were much more likely (72 percent ages 65 and older) to cite preference for receiving COVID-19 vaccines in their healthcare provider’s office, compared to over half (56 percent) of respondents ages 18-34.

More than a third (36 percent) of those ages 18-34 prefer to be vaccinated at a pharmacy. In evaluating location preferences, nearly two-thirds (61 percent) of respondents said they would prefer to get vaccinated from a healthcare provider they know. This percentage was higher when looking at respondents over the age of 65 (74 percent). Additional factors driving the location where respondents would like to receive the vaccine included the ability to get the vaccine quickly or not have to wait in line (45 percent) and a location close to home (41 percent), the study found. 

Debunking Some Myths and Misconceptions 

RIDOH has compiled a listing of frequency asked questions about COVID-19.  Here is a sampling: Some believe that vaccines are ineffective due to the vaccine’s fast track development, fearing corners have been cut during the clinical trials. The Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH) stresses that “the vaccines are 95% effective in preventing symptomatic laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 and in preventing severe disease.” 

It’s been reported that some people may choose to not get vaccinated because that believe that the vaccine contain a microchip.  That’s not true, says RIDOH. “There is no vaccine microchip, and the vaccine will not track people or gather personal information into a database. This myth started after comments made by Bill Gates from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation about a digital certificate of vaccine records. The technology he was referencing is not a microchip, has not been implemented in any manner, and is not tied to the development, testing, or distribution of COVID-19 vaccines,” says RIDOH.  

Others express concerns that MRNA vaccines can alter your DNA.  “The COVID-19 vaccines currently available, which are messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines, will not alter your DNA. Messenger RNA vaccines work by instructing cells in the body how to make a protein that triggers an immune response, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Messenger RNA injected into your body does not enter the cell nucleus where DNA is located and will not interact with or do anything to the DNA of your cells. Human cells break down and get rid of the messenger RNA soon after they have finished using the instructions,” states RIDOH.  

A vaccine will not give you COVID-19.  RIDOH says: “None of the COVID-19 vaccines currently in development or in use in the US contain the live virus that causes COVID-19. The goal for each of the vaccines is to teach our immune system how to recognize and fight the virus that causes COVID-19. Sometimes this process can cause symptoms, such as fever. These symptoms are normal and are a sign that the body is building immunity. It typically takes a few weeks for the body to build immunity after vaccination. That means it’s possible a person could be infected with the virus that causes COVID-19 just before or just after vaccination and get sick, but this is not because they got the vaccine. This is because the vaccine has not had enough time to provide protection.” 

For more resources on the impact of COVID-19 vaccination uptake in protecting individuals, families and communities, and for details on how organizations can partner with the COVID-19 Vaccine Education and Equity Project, visit https://covidvaccineproject.org. Want to know more about COVID-19 Vaccinations?  Go to https://health.ri.gov/publications/frequentlyaskedquestions/COVID19-Vaccine.pdf