If you have a loved one who needs long-term care now or soon, the last few months have probably brought quite a few questions about their safety and well-being. About one-third (35%) of all COVID-related deaths in the United States are linked to nursing homes and other long-term care facilities. It can happen anywhere: A new study found that CMS star ratings often don’t correlate with the number of cases or deaths at the facility.

Because of the prevalence of COVID-related deaths in these facilities, many families are banning visitors, which can cause a lot of confusion and concern for many families and make it difficult to know what’s happening on the inside. During non-COVID times, family members are usually a huge part of the care that nursing home residents receive, providing emotional support and making sure that their loved ones are eating meals and changing their clothes. Without this support, the consequences can be alarming. Several families reported seeing declines in their loved ones since visitors were banned in mid-March.

Advocating from Afar

So what’s a family member to do? First, learn everything you can about how your loved one’s facility is working to prevent the spread of the virus. The American Medical Directors Association recently published guidelines for reducing transmission, including establishing COVID-specific units, assigning staff to specific units to make contact tracing easier, and avoiding medications or treatments (like nebulizers) that can spread the virus more easily. Ask the facility which protocols they have in place and stay in close contact to see how they’re being followed.

To stay updated on your family member’s well-being, ask the facility administrator or nursing stations how they’re sharing resident-specific updates. In some cases, facilities are also permitting residents to use FaceTime or video to stay connected. While you work to protect your loved one’s health, it’s especially important make sure they have an updated estate plan. Our recent blog has additional tips for advocating for loved ones who are living in long-term care facilities, even if you can’t be there in person.

Designating a Representative Payee

As part of the planning process, one simple step to take now is to designate yourself as a Representative Payee for Social Security. When someone becomes disabled, the only way that Social Security will recognize another person to deal with the disabled person’s Social Security benefit is to appoint a Representative Payee — the agency will not honor powers of attorney.

In 2018, however, Social Security introduced a new procedure that your loved one can complete to designate a Representative Payee in advance. They can designate a Representative Payee at any time through a few different methods:

  • online with their personal Social Security account
  • by phone
  • in person by visiting their local field office
  • by mail using Form SSA-4547 – Advance Designation of Representative Payee

For those whose mental competence is declining but are still in control, this is something they can do to save time and a visit to the Social Security office later. With many nursing homes not allowing visitors, now is the time to get this done if you can — before they go into a facility.

This step should be a part of their full estate plan. Check out our recent article on emergency estate planning, which covers the steps to take now. Reach out with questions or issues with your own family. We’re here to help.