When coronavirus’ siege on Massachusetts grew this spring, School of Health Sciences adjunct professor Julie Norstrand quickly grew worried about one of the pandemic’s most vulnerable populations: the elderly.
A social worker and member of the Newton Council on Aging, Norstrand and her colleagues gathered to determine how impactful COVID-19 and related shutdowns would be on the elderly population in Newton.
“In the very early weeks we didn’t have many answers,” explained Norstrand. “And that was obviously very concerning. So, volunteers at the Newton Senior Center started calling older adults in the city.”
Those calls helped the Council on Aging understand the local elderly populations’ needs and how they were being met during the shutdown. From getting groceries to filling prescriptions to social interactions.
Now, as the country stands on the precipice of a second surge, Norstrand is looking to take a deeper dive into the elderly’s coping mechanisms and the extent to which needs are being met. She hopes the findings from this community-based needs assessment pilot study can help provide a better understanding of best practices from the first wave can better prepare the elderly and those who support them for a second wave.
“What I would like to do is get an idea of who is reaching out to older adults, what services they are accessing, and how well does that meet their need,” said Norstrand. “We will get to look more carefully at those who we can reasonably assume need the greatest help.”
Funded by Leslie Mandel, associate professor in the public health program, this study will survey about 300 Newton citizens over the age of 75 years old, as well as connect some of them with Regis College public health undergraduate students for weekly phone calls over the next four to five months.
“These calls will give us a longitudinal scope of how people are coping,” Norstrand said. “We are seeing cases are starting to spike and with that we will see anxiety and fear start to increase as well. But perhaps these older folks have adopted coping mechanisms that could be shared with other populations.”
Norstrand isn’t the only Regis College educator examining the effects the pandemic has had on the mental health of critically impacted populations.
Funded by a Virginia Pyne Kaneb Faculty Scholars Grant award, graduate nursing program professors Cassandra Godzik and Karen Crowley have interviewed 30 nurses and nurse practitioners across the country to better understand the challenges that front-line providers have experienced during the pandemic.
“The impact of this became very layered very quickly,” said Crowley. “We’re hearing from colleagues what the external, non-educational challenges were and how it was affecting their work and professional life, as well as their home life.”
One of the most common issues Crowley and Godzik have heard from their interviewees is a significant lack of communication. Not only within local or regional health care systems, but also between states battling coronavirus at different stages.
“We were interviewing people in California, Washington state, Florida, and Georgia and they were going through the same thing Massachusetts was 7 weeks prior,” said Crowley. “No one was really sharing what they had learned.”
The pair hopes their findings will inform communities and health care institutions on how to prepare for the impending second surge, as well as demonstrate the hard work and sacrifices nurses are making.
“I think it is important we understand what nurses are going through especially as we look ahead to the winter and spring,” Godzik explained. “Let’s see what we did wrong the first time and what is now in place to battle COVID or any other pandemics.”