Ohio starts ‘friendly line’ for lonely nursing home, assisted living residents

In an attempt to lessen the loneliness of Ohioans in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, Ohio is starting a “friendly caller” initiative where residents can sign up for regular conversations.

The Ohio Department of Medicaid announced it is joining forces with the Area Agencies on Aging and the five Medicaid insurance companies that manage Medicaid benefits to operate the joint “friendly caller” initiative.

In Ohio, nearly 19,000 facility residents have been infected from the virus and and 54% of reported coronavirus deaths in the state are among residents in long-term living facilities. Visitor restrictions to keep the virus out have also limited or canceled time with family and friends.

ExploreQ&A: Ohio embarks on Medicaid overhaul, here’s what you should know

Residents interested in the initiative are linked through the area agencies with trained callers to share their thoughts, feelings, and memories, or converse on any topics of interest during twice-weekly, 30-minute phone chats.

Callers trained on the UCLA Loneliness Scale – the leading scientific measure in evaluating loneliness – include three questions from the assessment tool to identify residents who may need additional interventions.

“Research shows us that the holidays are an emotionally challenging time for those residing in shared living facilities – a reality exacerbated by months of social distancing and limited interaction with loved ones,” said Maureen Corcoran, director of Ohio Medicaid.

ExploreAs pandemic continues, many still can’t visit loved ones at nursing homes

“We also know that depression can accelerate physical deterioration – this initiative gets to the heart of the matter by offering consistent, caring, and highly interpersonal connections that are needed now and throughout the holidays ahead.”

A recent Kaiser Family Foundation report found a notable increase in the rate of depression among facility residents due to the pandemic. One in four adults ages 65 and older (24%) reported anxiety or depression in August (a rate that has 2 been relatively constant since March). By comparison, the same study conducted in 2018 found that roughly 10% of this group reported anxiety or depression.

Any nursing or assisted living facility with a minimum of 50 residents receiving services through an Ohio Medicaid managed care programs can participate in the program.

The department said more COVID-19 prevention and intervention strategies will be introduced shortly and follows initiatives already underway, such as vaccine clinics to catch kids up who fell behind on immunizations during the pandemic.

About the Author