Argentum has released an “Essential Caregiver Toolkit” to help senior living communities and operators establish essential caregiver programs to combat the social isolation residents are experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The national association representing senior living providers assembled a workgroup that included the Oklahoma Assisted Living Association and Oklahoma’s state ombudsman to build the toolkit to provide guidance and documents. 

Essential caregiver programs are being adopted by several states — most recently Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, Oklahoma and Texas — to address loneliness and reduce health risks for older adults during visitation restrictions. Pennsylvania has introduced a compassionate caregiver program, and essential family caregiver legislation is being drafted in both the state House and Senate. The Task Force on the Safe and Limited Reopening of Long Term Care Facilities also recommended an essential caregiver program that was adopted by Florida.

Essential caregiver programs allow residents to designate an individual with whom to have regular contact, in situations where visitation is otherwise limited. Communities have the flexibility to set parameters for the program, including protocols, screenings and testing for COVID-19, and personal protective equipment requirements.

“As the pandemic continues, our concerns about the health effects isolation has on residents have rapidly increased,” Argentum President and CEO James Balda said. “We saw the need to take the lead in addressing these significant mental health risks in older adults and offer guidance for consideration.”

The toolkit includes model regulation; planning and implementation checklists; communication tools for residents, families and staff; and essential caregiver application, screening and risk acknowledgement templates. 

“This toolkit will help facilitate a quick response for senior living providers to implement an essential caregiver program, which will reduce the feeling of isolation that residents are experiencing during COVID-19 lockdown implemented to keep seniors safe,” said Melissa Holland, executive director of the Oklahoma Assisted Living Association. 

Oklahoma State Ombudsman Bill Whited said the toolkit maintains “strong connections” with family and friends and “makes for a better quality of life.”