Meeting older Americans where they are: at home

From care providers and partners to community organizations, health care companies serving older Americans – some of the most vulnerable to COVID-19 – have adapted to address the needs of their members in the face of the pandemic. Dr. Philip Oravetz, Chief Population Officer at Ochsner Health System, Founder and CEO of Papa Andrew Parker, and Lucy Theilheimer, the Chief Strategy and Impact Officer of Meals on Wheels America joined Humana’s VP, Bold Goal & Population Health Strategy Caraline Coats to discuss how their organizations, and the health system as a whole, evolved to meet older Americans where they are: at home.

“We’re at an inflection point in medicine,” said Dr. Oravetz. “There was an explosion of telehealth and telehealth-enabled services. Last year we did about 3,000 telehealth visits. We ramped up to about 3,000 per day during the peak of COVID.” Oravetz highlighted just how critical telehealth became to helping patients manage chronic illnesses, positing that telehealth will far outlast the pandemic.

Andrew Parker, Founder and CEO of Papa, an organization that connects seniors with college students for companionship and assistance, says older adults have also adapted. “I don’t think, without the pandemic, that they would’ve been so adoptive to utilize things like telehealth, like a virtual companionship solution.” Coronavirus, he says, encouraged seniors to say “I am lonely, I am isolated,” and to seek out the help they need.

Parker went on to mention how the nationwide protests that began as a result of George Floyd’s death have initiated important conversations between Papa Pals and the members they’re assisting. “The Papa Pals become a trusted friend and companion, which allows us to build a relationship with these members and talk about some of these issues,” he says. “You have an older generation talking to a much younger generation, that maybe even views the world way differently. We do our best to not only talk about these things in an open way, but do it to make sure people understand that we’re here to support them.”

The pandemic also shed light on the impact social isolation and loneliness can play in one’s health, Caraline Coats, Humana VP, Bold Goal & Population Health Strategy, noted. “Our health care industry was really built around acute and episodic care, not really [whole] health care. I often hear experts saying we’re potentially underestimating the impact of mental health around all of this.”

Building on this idea, Lucy Theilheimer, the Chief Strategy and Impact Officer of Meals on Wheels America, emphasized why “building the bridge between the clinical and the social,” is so critical when it comes to coordinated care. “With this greater understanding of how social determinants impact both physical and mental well-being, we have an opportunity to make sure we’re putting resources where they can best meet the need that an individual has.”

Watch the full conversation here.

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