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Klobuchar staff gather information on caring for senior citizens during COVID-19

Members of Sen. Amy Klobuchar’s office met with area senior advocates, including Mower County Senior Center, AARP and Mayo Clinic, to talk about issues and concerns with helping keep seniors connected during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Subjects that were discussed through a teleconference format included food, telemedicine and remains connected to the outside world.

In particular, the conversation spent a good amount of time on the access to telemedicine in rural areas in making sure care of senior citizens is available and not just during the pandemic, which opened up the use of telemedicine on a broader format.

Mayo officials were also concerned with how this care might be forwarded through into the future as rural healthcare facilities are seeing a decline.

“Our real hope is after COVID-19 that this model of care will be reimbursed into the future,” said Dr. Gregory Hansen, supervisor of community internal medicine senior services at Mayo. “That would be our take-home message for our senator.”

To do this, the advancement of broadband in rural areas is noted as an important step to fully utilize the continued use of telemedicine health officials said, in a process that is sometimes burdened with a lengthy regulatory process and the high price of establishing broadband.

That being said, telemedicine has been embraced more and more as hospitals like Mayo have been trying to cement online healthcare. This has included working directly with care facility staff in order to better connect with patients in these facilities.

A little more locally, Mower County Senior Center Executive Director Sara Schafer touched on the food delivery program that has been set up through the senior center with partners Hormel Foods and SMART Bus, which have helped in donating food and delivering it respectively. With this came support from the United Way of Mower County, who helped organize volunteers.

However, there have been challenges despite the success of the effort to get meals into the community. One of those has been an issue of supply.

“There was a time period where supply was a huge issue, especially protein,” Schafer said. “That was our biggest problem. I had this long term relationship with Sam’s Club in Rochester and was getting a lot of stuff from them and throughout this COVID thing they have really been there for us.”

“We’re not much better now, but it’s a little better,” she added.

Another challenge they are now looking at is the delivery system in the face of a city gradually opening up.

“The end of June, the bus system is going to be back to what they would normally do — delivering people,” Schafer said. “We’re still trying to figure out what that will look like in the month of July.”

This includes how they will continue to deliver 200 meals throughout the smaller towns in Mower County.

“We’re still working on drivers to get meals to them,” Schafer said.

On a state level, Erin Parrish of the Minnesota AARP spoke about how it’s advocates are working to make sure seniors, both in their homes and in care facilities, remain connected in general with the state of Minnesota.

It is also advocating for more precise data collection, testing and PPE for staff and residents.

In particular, volunteer advocates are working to stay in communication with those who are secluded in their homes to give them that outlet. This is accomplished through the mutual aid group AARP Community Connections.

“People who are feeling socially isolated can use AARP Community Connections to ask for a phone call from a volunteer,” Parrish said. “It’s just a friendly chat.”