America’s sickest seniors need relief

DATE: July 17, 2020

The Daily Record

By William Vaughan – July 16, 2020

Spending decades in a nursing home isn’t the typical experience, but it has been mine. As a nurse, I’ve seen it all –– and from many perspectives, initially as a surveyor working for the state of Maryland, and now from a nursing home pharmacy where my colleagues and I work to ensure that we’re caring for seniors in the safest way possible.

A nursing home, or long-term care (LTC) pharmacy, isn’t like your typical corner pharmacy. For example, maybe you’re taking four prescriptions a day, like the average American over 45.  You have to pick up your medication, remember to take it, consider timing and potential interactions, and track refills.

But for many seniors, they’re taking double the medications and may also be physically impaired, suffering from dementia, or both. And in a facility, there are typically dozens of seniors all on different drug regimens and requirements.

Thousands of medications and infinite variables can seem like chaos without dedicated people to direct them to the right patients at the right time.

LTC pharmacies take on that chaos and work with nursing homes to review and dispense prescriptions, making daily medication deliveries every day of the year.

Because suboptimal medication management has ramifications, like prompting an already compromised senior to return to the hospital, LTC pharmacies also work directly with nursing homes and their staff to consult on the best practices to prevent hospital readmissions.

It’s a lot to take on and clear how complicated medication management can become –– even during “normal” times.

COVID-19’s toll

But for the last few months, life has been far from “normal.” While the present pandemic is unprecedented, the reality is that we are continuing to serve more than 3 million nursing home residents who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

Isolation is exacerbating anxiety and depression, and we’ve seen prescriptions rise to an average of 12 prescriptions per senior. Our services have never been more valuable, but the financial impact has been devastating and is threatening our ability to continue providing care to America’s sickest seniors.

Operating costs have increased over the last few months as we’ve purchased personal protective equipment for all employees who don’t have the option of working from home. For those who can work remotely, investment in cybersecurity and infrastructure to protect private patient data has also added to overall costs.

And, because nursing home pharmacies are always on call, we’ve increased our medication stock to ensure every senior in our care has access to the medication they need, when they need it –– even in the event of potential shortages nationwide.

While Congress has set aside emergency relief funding to help health care providers weather these unforeseen costs, unfortunately, The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act did not explicitly provide relief for LTC pharmacies.

As the Department of Health and Human Services begins to distribute billions in aid, it is imperative that funding for pharmacies caring for vulnerable seniors be included.

Emergency funding will ensure continuity for this unique and essential service that is critical to the health of our seniors. Without this relief, LTC pharmacies will no longer be able to reliably provide medications for the millions of seniors who depend on them every day.

Pandemic or not, our mothers and fathers in nursing homes and other facilities across Maryland deserve the best care — and that means making sure LTC pharmacies remain sustainable to serve them.

Maintaining the economic viability of LTC pharmacies like ours that provide the life-saving, front-line medication management expertise needed to protect seniors’ care and well-being deserves to be a national funding priority.

William Vaughan, BSN, RN, is vice president of education and clinical affairs for Remedi SeniorCare based in Towson.

The full article is also available here.

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