BISBEE — With concerns about the impact of COVID–19 could have on the health of older adults in Cochise, Graham, Greenlee and Santa Cruz Counties, Southeastern Arizona Governments Organization Area Agency on Aging (SEAGO–AAA) is taking action to protect the health of seniors, staff, volunteers and the community.

Laura Villa, SEAGO-AAA, stated in a press release, the organization is “closely monitoring the news and available resources from the Centers on Disease Control (CDC), and further direction from the Administration on Community Living (ACL) and the Arizona Department of Economic Security (ADES).”

Due to the higher risk of the virus to older adults and in particular those with underlying medical conditions, SEAGO is implementing measures to protect this vulnerable population through March 31 and longer if necessary, Villa continued.

Case managers were instructed to suspend in–home visits and perform determinations and redeterminations telephonically as ADES has authorized the waiver of the client signature requirement during this time. SEAGO–AAA will host a conference call with all case managers to address changes to client intake procedures.

Home and community based service providers are also taking precautions by providing care workers with protective garments and, prior to any visit, obtaining authorization from the client to visit as well as asking questions about symptoms the client may be experiencing. Supervisory visits have been authorized to be performed over the phone instead of a one on one visit.

Frozen meals will continue to be delivered and at sites where people congregate, as in Tombstone, though participants will be monitored for symptoms. Those considered more at risk may be put on home delivery.

“We are in the process of determining exactly how that conversion will be handled and will be reaching out to Tombstone directly,” she added.

In Bisbee, precautions to limit staff contact with walk–in clients seeking in–house services such as counseling through the State Health Insurance Program or information and referral services at the Senior Center will be in effect as well.

“While the office will remain open, a table will block the entrance from the Bisbee Senior Center to the office. We will place handouts of current and updated COVID–19 information on the table along with hand sanitizer and a bell to call for staff if needed,” she pointed out.

SEAGO–AAA is also requesting those needing one on one assistance to call the office and schedule an appointment. If feasible, staff will work to resolve client needs over the phone.

The Family Caregiver Support Program and Health and Nutrition Program services will reschedule trainings workshops, presentations and suspend evidence based programs such as A Matter of Balance and Thai Chi for Arthritis until further notice. SEAGO anticipates certain services continuing in person on a limited basis and is exploring delivering many services in alternative formats, such as via webinar and telephonically.

Programmatic monitoring of services offered through subawards to service providers in the region will be rescheduled until mid–April while staff continues to assess COVID–19 guidance from CDC, ACL, and ADES.

The Long Term Care (LTC) Ombudsman Program has completed all visits for the month of March and will connect with LTC facilities over the phone in order to be informed the status of each site. If site visits become necessary, LTC Ombudsmen and/or volunteers will wear appropriate protective devices and exercise precautionary measures when interviewing or investigating complaints from clients in long term care or assisted living facilities to prevent potential exposure to COVID-19 or other illnesses.

SEAGO–AAA funded transportation services is developing operational guidelines to limit exposure to clients using public transportation in the SEAGO region.

In addition, staff is preparing to self–isolate or self–quarantine if any present symptoms of colds, flu, or COVID–19. They are required to work alternative schedules or work from their homes until such time as they feel better.

Villa explained, “In the event one of the SEAGO-AAA team comes in contact with a friend, family member, or anyone who has travelled to a high risk area for COVID–19, they will immediately self–quarantine and will not return from the office until they are cleared by a qualified medical professional. If they are presenting COVID–19 symptoms, they will contact their medical provider to seek testing and will remain quarantined until cleared by a qualified medical professional.”

Along with the Arizona Association of Area Agencies on Aging (Az4A), SEAGO–AAA is working to expedite emergency funding and relax certain restrictions within the Older Americans Act to ensure the needs of the region’s older adults can be met.

In addition, the SEAGO–AAA is following the lead of national and local partners in urging people to remain calm, prepare and practice commonsense precautions during these challenging times.

“We encourage public private service providers to develop specific prevention and response initiatives focused on the programs they operate through SEAGO–AAA subawards and the needs of older adults in our region, and to include us in their individual planning and implementation efforts. The older adults served and those who serve them remain of the utmost concern,” Villa concluded.

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