Over the past year, researchers have worked to better understand the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on individual and community health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that certain communities are at higher risk of contracting the virus and experiencing short- and long-term complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that certain communities are at higher risk of contracting the virus and experiencing short- and long-term complications.
In their recent article Caring for Vulnerable Populations During a Pandemic: Literature Review in the “International Journal of Caring Sciences,” Boise State School of Nursing faculty Jennifer Marsh and Marilyn O’Mallon worked with collaborators in Colorado and Louisiana to examine barriers to caring for vulnerable populations during a nationwide pandemic, and identify critical areas for improvement.
The team of nurses and a pharmacist searched existing literature for relevant studies on populations with the following risk factors: advanced age, chronic illness and/or disability, low income/homelessness, and mental illness. By combining and analyzing the data in several studies, they were able to develop a bigger picture of the needs of these populations during a major health crisis.
The authors wrote: “The threats on vulnerable populations are never more apparent than during a time of crisis, such as a pandemic,” their article reads. “During a pandemic, members of our vulnerable population can face enhanced challenges and more complex barriers than they normally encounter. These trials can be so great that they may lead to health deterioration or death. In order to care for those that are vulnerable in these times of crisis, focused efforts are required in three critical areas to prevent health deterioration and to save lives: communication and trust, planning and policy, and administration of care.”
The authors reviewed publications containing keywords including COVID-19, pandemic, and vulnerable populations, among others. They included articles addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as influenza over the past 11 years. In their review, they describe resource allocation and the ethical decisions associated with scarcity in the context of COVID-19.
Their article concludes, “It is essential that the vulnerable populations are provided effective and accessible care and communication, timely actions to build and maintain trust, and policies and plans that are ethically sound…more studies are [needed] to assess older adults living alone with chronic conditions (i.e., congestive heart failure, diabetes, depression, pain). Telehealth and tele-monitoring have the potential to adequately assess health maintenance, illness progression and deterioration in overall well-being. By implementing and advocating for these actions, vulnerable populations are provided a better opportunity to face the challenges of a pandemic and may prevent the need for resource-intensive critical care by maintaining health.”