Elder person using walking cane

We are all doing things we never imagined: Wearing masks and gloves and social distancing (who even knew there was such a thing).  

But as scary as this pandemic is to any of us fairly young and healthy enough to fight it, it is killing our moms, dads and grandparents. 

Since February, COVID-19 has been affecting the elderly at senior facilities throughout the U.S. Our loved ones are dying or becoming infected at the places designed to keep them safe. 

Doctors, nurses and first responders are on the front lines risking their own lives to care for those in need, but we need to remember our sometimes-forgotten but very important healthcare providers: caregivers. 

As the board president of an association that advocates for caregivers, I also run an in-home caregiving company.  

Perhaps I am biased to the importance of these workers, but I know that they can – and will – play a critical role in preventing the widespread transmissions that we are seeing at so many senior facilities and hospitals.

Caregivers provide one-on-one support to an individual in an isolated environment, often in the home. They help with the Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), such as cooking and cleaning, but can also provide the management of medications and hands-on assistance where protective equipment must be worn. 

Caregivers are typically either paid workers or unpaid family members. 

These caregivers often give the same services as many post-acute facilities in a much more regulated environment – which is so critical during social distancing.  They can also help prevent the loneliness that so often affects our elderly, providing a social connection. 

So why are older adults being affected so disproportionately? Older adults are more at risk because of weakened immune systems due to the normal process of aging along with other pre-existing conditions. 

The close proximity to other seniors and facility staff at many care homes leaves them more vulnerable to a variety of afflictions – and not just COVID-19.  

Even in the most safeguarded facilities (and they are all doing their best to address this crisis) it’s a numbers game: The more people in and out, the more likely the chance of transmission.

Just as hospitals and rehabs need backup, this workforce will also need reinforcement. We are in the midst of a caregiving shortage and with the current healthcare crisis, the demand for in-home care will only increase. 

 With layoffs and workplace uncertainty caused by the pandemic, caregiving offers stable and rewarding employment. 

If you need a caregiver, you have to do your homework.  Unlike other healthcare disciplines, caregiving is not always licensed or credentialed in Arizona.  

This means that just about anyone can provide care legally without having any experience or protections that help provide quality service.  

This lack of oversight is why the Arizona In-Home Care Association was formed as a nonprofit consumer protection and trade association 13 years ago with a mission to protect at-risk populations and caregivers. 

Caregivers are going to be the ones who can keep the ones we love – and most at risk from COVID-19 – out of hospitals, post-acute facilities and long-term care facilities.  They are going to be the key to keeping others safe in this crisis. 

-Zach Shaw is board president of the Arizona In-Home Care Association and CEO of Affordable Home Care in Scottsdale.