RYE — A newly formed statewide network of volunteers has been working to provide help and guidance to senior residential facilities in New Hampshire, including assisted living and nursing homes, to enable them to better handle the health crisis caused by COVID-19.

As of May 15, the COVID Alliance Senior Support Team, had more than 60 volunteer COVID response liaisons serving over 60 facilities.

The liaisons are available daily to gather information about the facilities’ needs and connect them with state, federal, and private resources that can help them. The most common issues liaisons discuss with facility staff are personal protective equipment, staffing, and testing needs.

The effort launched on April 13, after having consulted with residential industry associations, state government officials, university leaders, medical experts and the New Hampshire Nurses Association.

The impetus for the program came from the COVID-19 Policy Alliance, founded by faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management to help reduce the impact of the virus, particularly on the elderly.

Senior Support Team Chairman and New Hampshire state Sen. Tom Sherman (D-Rye), a practicing physician, points out that the age, comorbidities and close proximity of the residents of senior residential facilities put them at especially high risk of COVID-19 outbreaks.

“Experience in Italy, Spain, Washington State, and a growing list of locations around the world shows that COVID-19 can spread quickly among the residents and staff of senior residential facilities, and the evidence is clear that older COVID-19 patients are more likely to require hospitalization or die," Sherman said. "This makes senior care facilities a critical front line in the fight against COVID-19. The volunteers of the Senior Support Team intend to do everything they can as remote volunteers to support senior care facilities through this crisis.”

Each participating facility began by filling out a survey to evaluate its potential exposure to COVID-19 and to inform the facility’s liasons of its risks and needs.

The team also operates an automatic text messaging tool, developed by MIT graduate student Jackie Baek, to quickly and easily document new cases and new needs at each participating facility each day. This has become a critical technical tool for the team and its partners.

The Senior Support Team first contacted residential facilities to see if they were interested in participating through a number of associations, including the New Hampshire Association of Residential Care Homes, the New Hampshire Healthcare Association, LeadingAge Maine and New Hampshire, and the N.H. Association of County Nursing Homes.

The team collaborates with these associations to share knowledge and resources, advocating for the needs of participating senior living and long-term care providers. With the consent of participating facilities, the Senior Support Team provides data on facility status to the associations each day.

“Given the nature of this pandemic, our usual support systems have been stretched beyond their capacity. The importance of collaboration with other associations and organizations has increased a great deal. We welcome the Alliance’s expertise in data collection, as well as volunteer coordination, to help our members, and the members of our industry partners,” said Kelly Adams, vice president of the New Hampshire Association of Residential Care Homes.

Lisa Henderson, executive director of LeadingAge Maine & New Hampshire, said: “LeadingAge Maine & New Hampshire is grateful for our partnership with the COVID Alliance. Their rapid development and deployment of a daily texting program to help us check in with our members on the frontline is helping us direct resources to them and continue to advocate for their most urgent needs including PPE, staffing and testing.”

The New Hampshire Nurses Association was a also critical partner for the Senior Support Team on volunteer recruitment and organization.

“We are proud that NHNA Past President, Dr. Judith Joy, has been appointed the Statewide Coordinator for the COVID Response Liaison volunteers. Paula MacKinnon (president-elect of the School Nurses Association) has also played a critical role developing the team’s data collection tools,” said NHNA Nurse Executive Director Joan Widmer.

Nearly all of the volunteer Liaisons of the Senior Support Team have some level of health-care training, and a majority are current school nurses or retired nurses recruited by the NHNA. Also represented on the all-volunteer team are MIT student EMTs and graduate students, professors and physician assistant students from Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center medical students, political campaign operations and data experts, and volunteers from the N.H. business and non-profit sectors.

The Medical Advisory Group vetting the materials used by the Senior Support Team includes State Rep. Dr. Jerry Knirk (D-Freedom), Dr. Paul Friedrichs, Dr. Karl Singer, Dr. Apara Dave, SST Chairman and NH State Senator Dr. Tom Sherman, Dr. Daniel Stadler, Dr. Bruce Bartolini, Dr. Kim Perez, and Prof. Linda Martino.

“We intend to be ready to serve all of the over 200 licensed senior care facilities in New Hampshire”, said SST Executive Director Daniel Curtis. “We have the structure and the amazing volunteers to do it, and we’ve already made a big impact to help get the senior care facilities of New Hampshire the support they need.”

To learn more about the Senior Support Team, go to covidalliance.com/sst.

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