Older adults are a highly vulnerable group regarding COVID-19. What measures are Latin American and Caribbean countries taking to look after them? Countries in the region have made rapid progress with social distancing measures to address the pandemic, and responses in the area of long-term care are slowly beginning to be observed. However, these measures are still insufficient.
Ensuring Older Adult Care
In the area of long-term care, countries have focused on disseminating information, limiting the access of visitors to nursing homes, and establishing protocols for older adult care and the provision of home care. Most countries are providing information on the disease and the additional care that the older adult population needs. Communications are aimed at older adults themselves, as well as their caregivers. For example, IMSS, Mexico’s social security institute, has created the following free course: “Older Adult Care Regarding COVID-19.” PAMI, Argentina’s national institute of social services for retirees and pensioners, has made available a series of protocols and recommendations on its website.
Regarding care in nursing homes, some countries have implemented bans or limits on visits to older adults. For instance, Chile has suspended visits to state-owned nursing homes for 30 days. Panama has banned visits to nursing homes under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Social Development, and the ministry has provided those nursing homes with dry foods, medicines, and cleaning supplies. Costa Rica and Ecuador have banned visits to nursing homes nationwide. Argentina has limited visits to nursing homes under PAMI, and suspended activities in day centers. These measures are complemented by others, such as the definition of protocols and recommendations for care in nursing homes or day centers (in Argentina, Barbados, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Peru, and Uruguay).
In the area of home care, Peru is allocating resources for a home-visit service for high-risk older adults, which will also include people with severe disability. These resources will be used to implement a support network that will identify at-risk older adults, provide services, and carry out follow-ups. Peru has also established a protocol for action at home for Pensión 65 social pension beneficiaries. The program will prioritize high-risk beneficiaries, and it will consist of follow-ups via telephone and at home to provide information on care practices that will reduce the risk of contagion of COVID-19, evaluate health and vaccination status, and detect symptoms associated with COVID-19 in the older adult or his or her family. The use of technology is exemplified in telecare services. The Dominican Republic has addressed the closure of day centers by using telecare to provide medical, psychological, and legal services.
Additional Measures to Avoid Being Exposed or Leaving the House
Administrative requirements for receiving pensions have been changed to prevent older adults from leaving their homes. These changes include suspending the proof-of-life requirement for receiving pension payments (in Argentina, Brazil, and Trinidad and Tobago) or providing the option for family members to withdraw pension payments with a simple affidavit. For example, in Bolivia, a family member may collect the Renta Dignidad pension with a written note from the beneficiary, bearing his or her signature and/or fingerprint; the original identity card of the beneficiary; a copy of it; and the identity card of the person who is collecting the payment. Regarding employment, countries have taken measures to prevent older adults from going out into the street, such as providing paid leave for older adults (for example, in Argentina, Guatemala, and Mexico), telework options for older adults (in Guatemala), and special leave for family caregivers.
To avoid the exposure of older adults, specific hours of operation have been established for older adults in health centers, supermarkets, and banks. Countries have acknowledged the need to work on managing pension payments to prevent large crowds of older adults. For instance, after observing massive crowds of people, during quarantine, who lined up in front of banks to receive their pensions, Argentina’s Government had to take action. Its response was to stagger payments at bank branches according to identity card numbers, as well as promoting the use of the banking system. Chile’s social security institute, Instituto de Previsión Social, has enabled people to switch from face-to-face to electronic payments in order to avoid unnecessary travel and crowding. In Peru, people over the age of 75 have to collect their payments at the counter and those under 75 must collect them via ATM. In Colombia, to avoid the risk of contagion and death, Colpensiones pension administration is delivering pensions at home to adults over the age of 80 and disability pensioners over the age of 70. In addition, banks must deliver debit cards at home to all those pensioners who still collect their payments at the counter. In Argentina, Chile and Colombia, banks have set up telephone lines to answer questions about their new measures.
There are emerging roles for volunteers to support older adults. In Argentina, the Government of the City of Buenos Aires has called for volunteers under the “Adults Under Care” initiative to help older adults in isolation. Volunteers will be available to help older adults with daily logistics, such as buying food or medicine. Geolocation tools will be used to prioritize closeness so as to prevent people from having to travel too far from their homes. Instructions to prevent contagion and safety measures for all participants are also provided.
How Are We Addressing This Through Our Panorama?
At the IDB, through our Panorama of Aging and Long-term Care, we have been working on the topic of older adult care and we have recently made available several materials and resources to address the challenges posed by COVID-19. Our flagship publication, “Age with Care” is interactive and accessible, check it out!
If you missed our webinar on “Mitigation of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Nursing Homes and Day Centers,” you can find the recording and presentation here.
Would you like to participate in our next online event? Please join us on May 18, 2020, at 10 AM (EDT) for our “Continuity of Home Care and Telecare Services for Older Adults in the Era of COVID-19” webinar.
If you would like to share implementation experiences, please comment below.