I was working as a reporter in Texas when the pandemic began, where I spoke to the families of those in long-term care facilities and investigated the disproportionate death toll of coronavirus-infected residents in state veterans’ homes overseen by George B. Bush.
In reporting on those stories, I heard repeatedly from experts that aspects of the nursing home industry are broken and that it would be better to let people age in smaller settings or at home.
Those thoughts were rattling around in my head when I moved to a new job in Colorado, one of the fastest aging states in the country. When one of my colleagues saw a press release that suggested a 1,870 square mile rural county had been without a home health or hospice provider for the better part of a year, we thought it would be a good opportunity to write about the availability of these services in the state’s rural areas as baby boomers age.
Unsurprisingly, the picture is bleak.
It takes providers far longer to commute from home to home in a rural area, especially on roads that become treacherous in snowy and icy conditions. There is a smaller patient volume overall and it fluctuates based on need, making it difficult for a cash-strapped agency to retain the appropriate number of staff at all times. And providers make little more than minimum wage to offer intimate, hands-on care that can be emotionally draining.
All of this quickly became clear as I began calling various aging agencies across the state. But we [editors at the Colorado Sun] wanted to go beyond the numbers and policy statements to see what this all looked like on the ground.