Nevada CAN! The Silver State Launches Aging Network Rapid Response Plan

By Alison Biggar

Nevada CAN, or the Nevada COVID-19 Aging Network Rapid Response Plan, came together rapidly between March 16—the first day many Nevada institutions began closing to reduce risk of exposure—and April 1, when the plan launched.

Nevada CAN is a collaborative effort that includes all the state’s aging service organizations, with leadership from Dena Schmidt, Administrator with the Nevada Aging and Disability Services Division; Jeff Klein, CEO, Nevada Senior Services; Peter Reed, Director of the Sanford Center for Aging and a professor at the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) School of Medicine; and Jennifer Carson, director, Dementia Engagement, Education and Research Program in the School of Community Health Sciences at UNR (Reed and Carson are married).

Reed and Carson had found themselves talking nonstop during their home confinement, about how big a crisis this new coronavirus would be for all the elders newly sequestered at home. Though aging service organizations across Nevada currently serve many traditionally at-risk older adults, the couple began also to worry about all of Nevada’s approximately half million older adults who would now be confined to home and at risk for social isolation, along with the exacerbated risk to older adults who were already receiving services.

Together with their collaborators (Schmidt and Klein noted above), Reed and Carson formulated a plan to launch a coordinated statewide response to integrate Nevada’s various aging services agencies and quickly mobilize (with an accompanying 21-page resource report to help other states glean information that could assist them with forming similar plans).

Though this process was made a bit simpler given that Nevada has one State Unit on Aging instead of multiple area agencies on aging, it has been an impressively fast effort for such a gargantuan task. “We’re already collaborating with many agencies, which gave us a leg up,” said Carson. “We’re not creating new collaborations where none previously existed, just streamlining their efforts around specific priority objectives.”

But the plan is crucial, Reed says, because “our current aging services have the potential for being dramatically overwhelmed as the pandemic drags on and increasing numbers of older adults need access to basic services and support in their homes.”

Older Nevadans can call 211, or visit the new Nevada CAN website, to complete a simple request for help with daily essentials, medical or social services, or support to reduce social isolation. The plan’s ambitious goal is “to mobilize all available resources and ensure that every elder Nevadan has access to medical, social and daily essentials in their home, and thus reduce COVID-19 exposure and impact by ensuring all elders are safe, that their basic daily requirements and medical needs are met and that they are free from social isolation during this time of physical separation,” says Reed.

Social needs will be met via a robust network of already trained aging services workers along with teams of volunteers now being trained, which include existing volunteers from groups like RSVP Senior Corps, AARP and Dementia Friendly Nevada. Volunteers also include Nevada’s college students stepping forward, many of whom may be able to receive service learning credits, as well as any new volunteers who sign up to be trained. Volunteers are trained to deliver the planned social support services, as well as learning about important topics such as elder abuse, suicide awareness, cultural competency and cultural humility, and are subject to a rigorous background check.

Volunteers are connected to experienced volunteer guides, who generally are aging services leads from across the state. Each guide mentors about 15 volunteers to ensure quality control and to build relationships that model the relationships the volunteers will form with the elders they will be serving. Volunteers, once trained, will offer on-request, one-to-one check-ins with older adults.

Geriatrics, primary care, psychiatry, social work and other clinical services will be delivered via telemedicine by providers across the state working together to coordinate referrals and service delivery. Both the University of Nevada Reno (UNR) and University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) schools of medicine are funded as part of the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Geriatrics Workforce Enhancement Program, which will be engaged to support the Nevada CAN telehealth network with important training and resources to build provider capacity.

Carson says she hopes the telemedicine effort can help to offload all the extra work COVID-19 has placed upon primary care physicians by limiting non-essential, in-person doctor visits. Food, medication and transportation needs will be met through county service agencies already performing this work, supplemented by community service agencies and volunteers.

“Our aging services network already meets the needs of elders, and our most vulnerable elders in Nevada are already connected, but now even our most typically independent elders are at risk of feeling isolated,” Carson said.

“Elders need the community, but the community also needs elders. We’re creating platforms so that elders can enrich our lives,” she said.

To that end, Nevada CAN includes a new innovation called ‘Nevada Ensures Support Together’, or NESTs, which are virtual social peer groups of older adults that help elders to connect, share resources and offer support. Student volunteers are assisting in training NEST participants to use the peer group platform technology, if they’re not already up to speed.

Jeff Klein is working hard to mobilize the new County Compassion Corps (CCC) as part of the Nevada CAN plan, which uses volunteers to amplify the work of existing county senior services in delivering food or other daily essentials. For example, if an older adult doesn’t quite meet the criteria for Meals on Wheels delivery, it can be arranged for CCC volunteers to do their grocery shopping or to deliver medications.

Amid all the new planning and training, Reed, Carson, Schmidt and Klein are keeping watch to identify any new programming that can be used from here on out. They’re cataloging volunteers’ interest in current and future commitments, while assuming that this statewide resource mobilization can only help to care for Nevada’s older adults long into the future.

“By hopefully meeting needs today, we are building integration and infrastructure that could serve the state for the long term,” said Reed, observing that the CAN partnership might prove to be a rare and bright outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic.