Social isolation and loneliness are a public health concern because they are associated with poor mental and physical health outcomes and mortality. Social isolation is defined as have few, or no, social connections, and not participating in activities with others. Loneliness is defined as feeling unsatisfied about the amount of social engagement in one’s life.
Before the current pandemic, people with disabilities reported significantly higher rates of social isolation and loneliness than those without disabilities. Inaccessible events and buildings, limited accessible public transportation, social stigma, and lower rates of employment all contribute to these high rates. When restrictions are put in place to help protect people from COVID-19, what happens to these rates?
To learn more about how COVID-19 and public health responses such as stay-at-home orders may contribute to feelings of social isolation and loneliness among people with disabilities, RTC:Rural researchers compared data from two cross-sectional samples collected before and after the first wave of “stay-at-home” orders.
Rural/urban differences in trust in sources and preventative practices
Public health is shaped by community-level action. This is especially important during crises such as COVID-19, where widespread adoption of public health practices is necessary to manage community spread and prevent loss. Consistent information is important for fostering trust and adherence to recommended practices.
We were excited to bring our peer-led self-management program Living Well in the Community to new audiences by facilitating partnerships between Centers for Independent Living and rural hospitals, and begun by teaming up with CILs and rural hospitals in Wyoming and Oregon for the first phase of the project.
And then COVID-19 struck, and like so many things across the country, we needed to adapt, as many hospitals and healthcare settings found themselves dealing with this virus and related difficulties. At the same time, it became dangerous for people to meet in person, especially when the disability community is most at-risk for exposure in this pandemic.
Guest blog post by Dr. Meg Ann Traci, RTC:Rural Knowledge Broker
The devastating and disproportionate rates of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and deaths in institutional settings continues to be part of the national crisis. With data from the 23 states that publicly report data on deaths within long term care facilities, such as nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities and assisted living facilities, the Kaiser Family Foundation estimates more than one in four COVID-19 related deaths in those states (27%) occurred in such settings. The threat within these medical and personal care settings put people with disabilities and others unable to maintain and manage independence in the community, at increased risk. In rural areas, the threat to such institutionalized populations is likely even greater.
While many Americans will suffer in the coming recession, people with disabilities in rural areas are especially vulnerable because they are less likely to have an emergency savings fund, have access to paid leave, or be able to work from home.
Additionally, local and national news headline stories revealed the increased burden of the virus among residents and workers in group quarters such as prisons, nursing homes, and juvenile group homes (non-correctional). The high rates of infection and deaths at a long term care facility in Kirkland, Washington, caught the nation’s attention and refocused the public health response efforts on institutional settings.
Because people living in institutional settings are more likely to report disabilities than the general population and these settings are not evenly distributed between urban and rural areas across the United States, rural people with disabilities have a lot at stake in efforts to address the pandemic and outbreaks in institutional settings.
“Not only do you have to travel far to get to beds,” Grieman said, “You’re going to a place where there are more people, where there is also an outbreak, and those beds may also still be in high demand. So, that’s what I find particularly disconcerting.”
RTC:Rural Project Director Lillie Grieman in a recent news article on Public News Service, on why rural people with disabilities are at higher risk during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rural people with disabilities and barriers to hospital access
Rural people with disabilities face many barriers to accessing health care, particularly Intensive Care Units and hospital beds. Hospital capacity varies greatly, as does the prevalence of people with disabilities. Typically, there are fewer hospital beds and higher rates of disability in rural places than urban ones.
Project Director Lillie Greiman discusses some of these barriers in a recent news article- read or listen to the news story through the following link:
Understanding the needs of a community is imperative to effectively plan for any type of emergency response, be it natural disaster or a pandemic. As people around the world are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, the needs of people with disabilities should not be overlooked or go unaddressed as members of those communities. To assess the impact of COVID on people with disabilities and their needs, it’s important to understand the prevalence of disability by the functional limitations of people living with disabilities experience in their communities.
According to the American
Community Survey, about 41 million, or 13%, of Americans have at
least one type of disability (ACS 2015). The vast majority (38 million) live in
households with other people and a significant number of people with
disabilities live in group quarters, which includes dormitories, nursing homes,
Approximately 78 million people without disabilities live in
households with a member who experiences a disability. This means that nearly
25% of the US population lives in a household with a member with a disability.
How has COVID-19 impacted you and your rural community?
RTC:Rural is collecting real stories from real people in rural places who are impacted by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
We want to help shed light on what is actually happening in the lives of people with disabilities from the perspectives of consumers, family members, caregivers and service providers. We feel the uniqueness and complexity of individual stories are important to share. The needs of rural people with disabilities should be considered in efforts to address the impact of COVID-19.
Contact us if you are interested in creating and sharing real stories! Our staff can set up an interview time and format that works well for you. Participants can choose whether or not to remain anonymous in the stories we share together.