Maybe Mom is starting to forget things. Or Dad had a fall a couple of weeks ago, and you’re scared it’s going to happen again. In non-COVID times, signs like these might prompt you to start researching residential care options where they’ll have more support. But things are different in a pandemic.

Since assisted living centers and nursing homes first emerged as one of the epicenters of the coronavirus crisis, many people have been doing everything they can to keep elderly relatives far away. According to a recent report, about 40% of all COVID-19 deaths and 7% of all COVID-19 cases are linked to nursing homes.

But aging adults may need more care than it’s possible to provide at home, and the dam is starting to break six months in – family members just cannot provide the care necessary long term. Plus, the nursing home and assisted living industry is getting much better at infection control, and the death rates have gone down considerably.

If you’re struggling to support an aging parent, spouse, or other family member, remember: You’ve done enough. That level of caregiving can put a strain on every area of your life, including your marriage, your job, and your own health – especially now. Placing a parent in a residential facility can help them get the care they need, while letting you step into the most important role of all: their advocate. Here’s what to know about moving a loved one into an assisted living or nursing facility right now.

Choosing a facility

First, you need to decide if your family member truly needs residential care during the pandemic. In general, the best candidates for assisted living during COVID-19 include:

  • seniors who need regular help with daily activities
  • seniors who live alone and need urgent medical attention
  • those with dementia and Alzheimer’s
  • seniors living with essential workers or others where they could be at increased risk of contracting the virus

If your loved one fits any of these criteria, look for a facility taking the proper precautions, including:

  • visitor restrictions
  • asking staff members to stay home if they are sick
  • postponing group activities and limiting access to communal areas
  • enhanced cleaning procedures
  • daily COVID-19 screenings

When choosing a facility, ask the staff directly how many COVID cases they’ve had and how they’ve handled any outbreaks. The federal government is documenting the number of COVID-19 cases at every Medicare and Medicaid-funded nursing facility in the U.S., so you can also research on your own.

To shortcut the selection process, many families use professionals to help make placement. Given how busy many of our families are, this is definitely the way to go. Some are simply free referral services, but these services don’t always vet the facilities for quality. On the other hand, there are private agencies who can help the family make an appropriate selection of a high-quality facility with less effort required on their part. Costs typically run from $75 to $150 an hour. If you need a referral, get in touch and we can help.

Paying for it all

Once you find a facility, figuring out how to foot the bill is the next challenge. The cost for care can be astronomical, with a private room averaging $8,365 per month.

Many seniors and their families turn to Medicaid, a program that helps people pay for long-term care if they can prove they have a financial need. Medicaid in Illinois is currently approving almost everything during the pandemic. However, we expect Medicaid to review all approvals in 2021, and it’s possible that the agency will cut off benefits that were wrongly received. We expect some guidance from Illinois on how it will handle these reviews later this year.

When applying for Medicaid benefits, you need to be careful about following the rules to avoid having the government deny your claims or, even worse, come after you for the money later. The main things to know include:

  • To qualify for Medicaid benefits in Illinois, someone who is single can’t have more than $2,000 in assets.
  • For Medicaid recipients in long-term care facilities, the facility will take all but $30 per month of the resident’s Social Security and other income to pay for their care.
  • In Illinois, a non-Medicaid spouse can keep up a total monthly income of $2,739 per month if receiving income from the spouse in the nursing home (this figure is higher if they have their own source of income). But they are also allowed to keep the family home, its contents and their car, no matter the value (so maybe it’s time to trade in that family vehicle?). The non-Medicaid spouse can also have cash and investments of up to $109,560.

Navigating care during COVID

None of this is easy, and the pandemic is making these complicated decisions even tougher. At Generation Law, we’ve talked with many families over the last few months in the same situation. If you have questions about your own aging loved one, reach out to us. We’re here to help you, so that you can help them get the support they need.