The spread of COVID-19 has shown the most vulnerable members of the population to be senior citizens, and those living in senior living facilities or receiving home health care are even more at risk.
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FORT WALTON BEACH — The first reports of widespread COVID-19 infections in the United States that caught most people's attention came from an outbreak at the Life Care Center nursing home in Kirkland, Washington.
That was where the virus, thought by nursing home staff to be influenza, ran unchecked and had killed 37 of its residents as of Thursday, when Life Care was hit with a $611,000 fine for their response to the outbreak.
The incident underlined the fact that senior citizens are much, much more susceptible to COVID-19, with the fatality rate jumping up to 3-4 percent for elderly citizens who contract the virus and making the quarantine of senior living facilities one of the first moves to combat the pandemic by most states.
In Florida, locally and across the state, those in positions of leadership within senior living communities and senior home health care companies are taking pains to make sure their residents and clients are protected and they don't repeat the fatal mistakes made in Kirkland.
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Right at Home, which provides home health care for senior citizens in 500 locations across the U.S., including Fort Walton Beach, Tallahassee and Jacksonville, has had to revamp its strategy on almost a daily basis.
"I think it rocked all of our worlds, obviously," said Right at Home Chief of Strategic Growth Kerin Zuger. "And you take all of the concerns we have about (the virus), then the flip side of that is that just because this is out there we don't want to let it take away from the care of seniors who have dementia, who have cognitive issues.
"It's a balancing act we're all trying to pull off right now, and the playing field is changing constantly."
Zuger's sentiment is shared by those in her industry who are all experiencing the same thing at once -- the unique task of helping protect the most vulnerable among our population.
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"I will say that every day has the same amount of challenges as you would typically experience in a week," said Andy Malivuk, the owner of Seniors Helping Seniors based out of the Tampa/St. Petersburg area. "Things are changing so much on a day-to-day basis ... the pendulum will start swinging one day then it goes back the other way, but I think we are all adopting some best practices that are working."
Those best practices, according to both Zuger and Malivuk, start with workers in the senior living and home health care industries tearing down walls in order to share information with each other.
"With 500 locations, we are pretty much in every state," Zuger said. "And each state has different guidelines we're figuring out as we go. That's why communication is such a key, that's why each situation needs to be assessed differently. We have to find ways to minimize the risk however and whenever we can."
For Malivuk's company, it's also about staying on the cutting edge of technology.
"For a long time, we've been a proponent in investing in the best technology that's available to us," he said. "And we are seeing almost all of these different entities, from local and state agencies to the government and all the way down to software companies striving for that same thing. I've been amazed at how quickly everyone pivots to new policies and procedures, and I credit technology for a lot of that.
"I can't imagine what it would be like if we didn't have that stuff in place."