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Amy Klobuchar: Protecting seniors during the pandemic

Guest Column by Amy Klobuchar

Amy Klobuchar

 

Coronavirus has changed just about everything about our lives, but for our nation’s seniors, the toll of this virus has been particularly devastating. Those over 65 account for the vast majority of Americans who have died from coronavirus, with estimates indicating that eight out of 10 people in our country who have lost their lives are seniors.

And this pandemic has put older Americans at risk on multiple fronts. Necessary safety precautions have left many older Americans alone and separated from their loved ones, and also vulnerable to scams by those seeking to exploit this crisis for personal gain.

All across the country, families have turned to creative solutions to stay connected to their older relatives while also keeping them safe. In northern Minnesota, Elsie Dahl celebrated her 91st birthday not with hugs from family members, but by listening to them sing “Happy Birthday” outside the window of her assisted living facility and sharing cupcakes with her nurses.

While I’m sure Elsie’s family would have rather celebrated in person, many nursing facilities have strict rules in place barring visitors in order to protect the health of their residents — which is critical given CDC estimates indicating up to 35% of coronavirus deaths have occurred in nursing homes. In mid-June, Minnesotans got some good news when the Minnesota Department of Health issued new guidance that allows outdoor visits at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities. But we know that even with this updated guidance, many nursing home residents will still feel unsafe seeing visitors while others’ health remains too fragile to take the risk.

While protecting the people we love is critical, this reality means many seniors will still not be able to see their families or visit their health care providers.

That’s why I am leading bipartisan legislation in the Senate that would further enhance telehealth and other virtual services in skilled nursing facilities.

My bill would provide funding to expand the use of telehealth services, and help nursing facilities get technology to support “virtual visits” to help seniors stay connected to their loved ones.

AARP, the Long Term Care Community Coalition, the National Consumer Voice for Quality Long Term Care, and the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations have all endorsed this bill. And a bipartisan companion bill has also been introduced in the House of Representatives.

This legislation would help minimize the harmful mental and physical toll of being apart from loved ones while ensuring the care of older Americans is not compromised when their families can’t visit them.

While this bill would help mitigate some of the wide-ranging impacts of this pandemic on older Americans, this population is vulnerable to more than just the health implications of this virus. Seniors are also often targeted by scammers seeking to exploit them for financial gain, using the fear and uncertainty created by this pandemic to take advantage of the most vulnerable.

That’s why Sen. Jerry Moran from Kansas and I introduced bipartisan legislation last month — the Protecting Seniors from Emergency Scams Act —  that directs the Federal Trade Commission to report to Congress on scams targeting seniors during this pandemic and make recommendations on how to prevent them during emergencies. The bill also directs the FTC to update its website with information that will help seniors and their caregivers get in touch with law enforcement and adult protective agencies, and directs the FTC to ensure seniors and their caregivers are informed about the risks of these fraudulent schemes. Even before the pandemic, seniors lost an estimated $3 billion annually from financial scams.

All Americans deserve safety and dignity in their senior years. The moral test of any nation is how it treats its most vulnerable citizens — and that has never been more important than right now during this crisis. We have a duty to not just protect the health of our nation’s seniors, but also their mental, emotional and financial well-being.

Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, is a U.S. senator.