OKLAHOMA CITY – State Rep. Tammy West, R-Oklahoma City, the chair of the Majority Caucus in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, held an interim study Wednesday examining current and future needs of people in long-term care facilities related to COVID-19. The study was held before the House Health Services and Long-Term Care Committee.
“A number of Oklahomans who are residents of long-term care facilities suffered especially devastating effects from the COVID-19 pandemic,” West said.
“Not only did these residents suffer higher death rates and illness, but many struggled with isolation factors when quarantine forced them to be shut off from family members and other caregivers. We want to examine some of the lessons we learned and prepare for the future needs of these vulnerable Oklahomans.”
Speakers at Wednesday’s study included: Steven Buck, CEO of Care Providers Oklahoma; Dr. Alexander Frank a long-term care specialist with Long Term Care Specialists in Oklahoma City; Mary Brinkley, executive director of LeadingAge Oklahoma; Kevin Stinson, a caregiver who shared his personal testimonial; Travis Kirkpatrick, deputy commissioner of the Oklahoma State Department of Health; William Whited, state long-term care ombudsman; and Chad Mullen, associate state director of advocacy with AARP Oklahoma. Mullen shared statistics that show 3.6% of total COVID-19 cases are residents in long-term care facilities; 42% of deaths are among that same population.
To date, Oklahoma has seen 1,676 cases among long-term care residents, 981 staff cases, 267 resident deaths and three staff deaths. Mullen said since Oklahoma and the rest of the nation are still at the height of the pandemic, there has not been a lot of empirical studies on the effects of social isolation, but he and others in the industry know it is taking its toll. He pointed to past studies, including some from Texas that detail first-hand accounts. Additional research shows that social isolation significantly increases a person’s risk of premature death from all causes, rivaling even deaths caused by smoking, obesity and physical inactivity.
Social isolation also is associated with about a 50% increased risk of dementia, a 29% increased risk of heart disease and a 32% increased risk of stroke. Higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicide also are linked to loneliness, as is an increased risk of hospitalization or emergency room visits.
West said she and other lawmakers are considering ways they might address isolation factors for those in long-term care facilities while still ensuring health and safety.
She said it’s imperative to her to give these people hope.
Tammy West serves District 84 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives, which includes part of Oklahoma County.