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Avoiding COVID-19 Vaccination Scams

Guest blog by Charles Clarkson, Esq., Project Director, Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey

On March 13, 2020, a national health emergency was declared due to the coronavirus pandemic. After many years of running the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey (SMP), I knew it was only a matter of time before we starting seeing SCAMS related to the health emergency. Fraudsters are always looking for ways to scam people, and the COVID-19 public health emergency has been no exception. Initially, fraudsters promoted false cures, sold phony personal protective equipment, given people illegitimate COVID tests and billed Medicare for sham tests and treatments. Now, they are targeting vaccines.

The goals of the fraudsters are very simple: to obtain your information, which they can use to steal your personal and/or medical identity, or to outright steal your money. The SMP has seen a number of vaccine scams. The more you know about these scams the more likely it is you will not fall victim to them.

Head-of-the-line Vaccine Scams

Scammers call and say you can get your vaccine early by providing your Medicare number or other personal information. They may ask for payment upfront and/or insurance information in order to be placed on a priority waiting list for a vaccine you may never receive.

Don’t fall for it. You cannot pay to get in line for a vaccine.

Survey Vaccine Scams

You have gotten your vaccine. You then get an email asking you to complete a health survey. It looks legitimate and has logos and telephone numbers that appear to be genuine. You want to be helpful because you are grateful you were able to get the vaccine. Some of these surveys are also offering money or other incentives to entice you to participate in the survey. The messages may also claim to be urgent, giving a timeframe of expiration to get you to click on their deceptive link to gain personal information.

Don’t fall for it. A vaccine survey offering you an incentive or stating a sense of urgency to complete is a red flag. You should double-check logos and phone numbers and hover over links to see if they are long and suspicious. Don’t click on them.

Vaccine Trial Scams

There are numerous clinical research trials in the race to develop additional COVID-19 vaccines, treatments and cures. Legitimate clinical trials may offer payments to participants under well-defined legal guidelines. However, career criminals know the offer of a paid clinical trial is also an opportunity for financial identity theft.

Don’t fall for it. Be wary of unsolicited emails, calls, or personal contacts requesting personal information. The Federal Trade Commission issued a warning in October 2020 with helpful hints to determine whether a trial is legitimate.

Vaccines-for-Sale Scams

Scammers are setting up fake websites offering to sell vaccines or vaccine kits. Some are imitating legitimate pharmaceutical manufacturers. In some cases, scammers were asking for payment for vaccines and/or kits via a credit card and sending payment to a specific credit union.

Don’t fall for it. You can’t buy a vaccine.

For More Information About Vaccine Scams Affecting Older Adults

If you think you have been a victim of Medicare fraud, errors, or abuse, contact the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey at 1-732-777-1940 or call our hotline at 1-877-SMP-4359 [1-877-767-4395]. You can also visit our website.

Find Help in Your State

If you live in a state other than NJ, you can find help by visiting the SMP Resource Center.

If you have questions related to Medicare billing for COVID-19 vaccines, call 1-800-Medicare [1-800-633-4227] or visit Medicare.

Charles Clarkson, Esq., has been the Project Director of the Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey, under the auspices of the Jewish Family Services of Middlesex County, since 2005. The Senior Medicare Patrol of New Jersey is a federally funded program of the U.S. Administration for Community Living and part of the national Senior Medicare Patrol project. There is a Senior Medicare Patrol in every state, including the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgins Islands. The SMP of New Jersey is responsible for teaching Medicare recipients in the state to become better healthcare consumers. As part of this effort, seniors are provided with information to prevent them from becoming victims of fraud, waste and abuse in the Medicare program. The SMP program also assists beneficiaries in reviewing suspected Medicare fraud and can act as an advocate to assist beneficiaries in fighting Medicare fraud, waste and abuse.

Clarkson is a New York attorney who for many years was Vice President, Deputy Counsel and Corporate Secretary of TLC Beatrice International Holdings, Inc., a multi-billion, international food company.

Aging Well – Moving Forward Together

A promo for the conference.

Excerpt from a speech by Cathy Rowe, DrPH, NJAAW’s new Executive Director

For the last four to five years, I have been deeply involved in age-friendly efforts and communities, and as you have heard in recent weeks — and from some of our [conference] speakers — NJ has committed to becoming an age-friendly state. So, this is an exciting time with a lot of opportunities for all of us in the field of aging to make change where needed, keep all the best of what we do and attempt things we never thought possible before. Now is the time to reach high.

When [NJ’s Director of the Division of Aging Services (DoAS)] Louise Rush told us that 23+% of NJ residents were over age 60, even I was surprised. That’s a lot! It really is a lot.

We have known that the Baby Boomers — the bubble born post-WW2 through 1968 — were the largest population group ever seen in the US, and we have watched for 60 years as they moved through the schools systems, the workforce, started their families and now enter retirement. We built schools for them, colleges, highways and other infrastructure to accommodate this population growth, but we are still not fully prepared for their next stage of life.

Living longer; prepping for the future

Part of this is because when they were born, the average life expectancy was still under 70 years. Now, a child born today may easily see their 100th birthday. That is a big change and a rapid change. Nobody building new schools to accommodate an influx of students in 1960 predicted that those same children would live as long and as well as they are now.

There is a lot to do to prepare. Coming out of COVID, as we rebuild and rebound, we need to keep the lessons we learned and use them for long-term planning, to shape policy and make improvements. No problem that any of us were working on before COVID was solved — most were accentuated. Many new, or rather, unrecognized challenges, were brought to the forefront. And we saw some very creative solutions.

Aging is actually one of the very few things we all have in common. My background is in public health, and I was once asked how public health fit into healthy aging. I responded that healthy aging is the goal of public health. All efforts, research, programs — whether long-term or in quick response to something like a pandemic are with the goal to help people live long, healthy lives as individuals and as a population.

Not just aging — aging well

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

So, the question we face is: How do we age well — as individuals, as communities and as a state?

At NJAAW, our role and goals are aligned with our emerging from COVID, the review of the state plan for older adults, and the age-friendly efforts. For 10 years, NJAAW has provided Aging Insights, our award-winning TV program, covering topics that range from health, pandemics to personal finances and just about everything in between. We will continue Aging Insights as well as holding webinars that have provided interactive sessions with colleagues in the field who have found unique ways to approach aging issues in their communities.

Sharing, educating, advocating

And based on the response to our conference’s networking session, and the very active Q&A for presenters, we will offer more opportunities to bring you together for discussions and idea-sharing — one small benefit of the last year is that we can now connect so easily online. Meeting online breaks down the many silos that might block our natural interaction — either by service area or geography.

This is NJ and with over 500 municipalities doing things 500 different ways, it is difficult to see what another community is doing and find ways to implement it for your town or program or agency. We want to help in the sharing of ideas, lessons and successes you all have had in your work.

As NJ works towards becoming an age-friendly state, we will continue the education and advocacy we have done for the past 23 years. We will increase our focus on policy and joining the discussion on age-friendly efforts and the changing demographics of our state. 

2030, that looming year we in NJ and many states expect to see the number of 60+ year old residents outnumber the number of students in the classrooms, is not far away. 

We will highlight issues of importance with

  • Data
    • Academic research and
    • The experience of local efforts bubbling up and state efforts going down

Where do we meet in the middle?

Your plans for aging well?

I asked Louise Rush and members of the breakout groups what their plans are for aging well — and I am going to keep asking so everybody, start thinking. We are all professionals here, working to help people age well. Whether social worker, housing, health care, recreation, mental health or transportation — we are working now to not only meet needs but to make life better for older New Jerseyans.

But as the flight crew always tells us, “Put on your own oxygen mask first.”  Louise Rush said age 0 – 60 goes fast. Age 60 – 90 might slow down for some as you find new time in retirement or might speed up more with additional family, responsibilities, or new careers and activities.

So, do not just think of what needs to be done right now, coming out of COVID, or for the next year, or the next inspection or budget cycle. Think of what YOU can do long term and what WE can do together. What do you personally want for your aging plan? Where do you want to live? Are you financially prepared?

Whether you are new to the field, mid-career or counting the weeks until you retire, envision where and how you want to live and what you will need. Now go do it!

The time is now

The timing for coming out of COVID actually is good, if there could ever be a “good time” or anything good to come from a pandemic. What I mean by that is that we are re-emerging and rebuilding at the exact time other significant changes are about to be made. We are launching statewide efforts to make NJ an age-friendly state just as we are looking at the lessons we learned from COVID.

We saw the devastating fragility of some of our residents who succumbed to this disease. We saw that socioeconomic status, including race and income, had a significant impact on whether someone caught COVID and their ability to recover.

Lessons to be learned

More than ever before, we came further in the last year in recognizing racial inequities, which become more pronounced as we age. We saw some communities embrace technology while others were left further behind. We learned that we do not know enough about our older residents who live in their own homes, who are not in any programs or receiving benefits. What do all of these have in common? They are lessons we learned and data points we can use going forward.

At NJAAW we are going to keep doing what we do well — convening, educating and advocating for older residents. To be as effective as possible at this important time of change, we will examine data more carefully to identify needs and to help shape policy. Look for the data highlights we will include in our newsletter and other communications.

Data = direction

From my time in academia, I learned that it is only with good data that we can help shape good policy and then implement that policy as effectively and efficiently as possible. I am thrilled to have supportive and dedicated people in our statehouse, including Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle and the members of the Aging and Senior Services Committee in the Assembly, and Director Rush shaping our next steps in policy and programs. At NJAAW we will share the data and discussions with you and will advocate for policy and the funding necessary to make NJ a state where we can all age well.

About Dr. Rowe

Dr. Cathy Rowe
Executive Director
NJ Advocates for Aging Well,
Photo by Steve Hockstein HarvardStudio.com

Cathy Rowe, DrPH, was named Executive Director of NJ Advocates for Aging Well in May, 2021. Most recently, Dr. Rowe served as Coordinator for SOMA (South Orange/Maplewood): Two Towns for All Ages, a grant-funded healthy aging initiative in a community with more than 6,000 residents over 60. This cutting-edge collaboration, based on the World Health Organization’s Domains of Healthy Aging, focuses on developing programs to address economic and infrastructure needs for an age-friendly community.

Dr. Rowe has spoken extensively on aging issues at conferences and symposia locally and globally and is an expert in establishing age-friendly communities. In 2020, the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging presented her with a “Best Practices for Socially Engaging Older Adults Award” for the “Repair Café” she established — the first of its kind in NJ. An inter-generational event, the cafe brings together people of all ages and levels of expertise to repair and save treasured items. This also helps to keep such items out of landfills.

Dr. Rowe serves on the steering committee for Impact 100 Essex and is a mentor for the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Previously, she was a Board member for the Interfaith Hospital Network.

Dr. Rowe earned her DrPH in Health Policy and Management from Columbia University, where she received a Fellowship in Public Policy. Her BA in Economics is from Bates College.

Grandparents Stepping Up to Assist Grandchildren with Virtual Education

 

Dr. Charisse Smith

As a young child growing up in New Jersey, I recall spending countless summers in the sandy woods of Wall Township with my maternal grandmother, Carolyn Holland.

On her screened-in porch, we spent hours playing such card games as Pitty Pat, War and Casino. This card shark, with less than an eighth-grade education, showed me no mercy, winning game after game! Through these card games, she fortuitously taught me how to quickly identify numbered groups (subitizing*) and strategy (critical thinking).

My paternal grandfather, Robert E. West of Neptune, instructed me in the art of applying the correct tip for great service at the local Perkins Pancake House. Maternal aunt Doris Sergeant of Asbury Park cultivated my love of reading and storytelling through her reading aloud. Her fluctuating animated voice magically fit each and every character of the stories she read.

As I reminisce about these special moments as a wide-eyed, inquisitive youngster, I now appreciate them as authentic learning experiences. I truly cannot recall specific reading or math lessons or feeling that these moments were “school,” but as an educator, I recognize that the benefits of simple card games and stories read to me set me on the path toward academic success.

Although I assist teachers in applying curriculum and best-teaching practices to classrooms, the simple games, conversations and nightly read-alouds with Carolyn, Robert and Doris were invaluable.

COVID-19 and virtual teaching/learning

According to the New Jersey Department of Education, there are approximately 2,734,950 students in New Jersey’s public and charter schools who are now participating in some form of virtual or remote learning due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many New Jersey schools pivoted from photocopied worksheets and packets to working exclusively online with students in virtual classrooms.

In a matter of a few weeks, New Jersey school districts found themselves quickly gathering their troops of learning experts, teachers and educational technology departments to provide quality learning opportunities for all of their students. Families also found themselves banding together to navigate through digital learning platforms like Zoom, Google Classroom, Google Meets, Microsoft Teams, Class Dojo, Canvas and Blackboard.

Older Americans are teaching/learning, too

Older Americans also fearlessly accepted the call to join the ranks of the virtual homeschooling faculty. Because many parents continue to work as essential workers, older adult family members have been designated as the at-home schoolteacher. These older family members are ensuring that children are logging on, participating and completing school assignments.

One example is a 68-year-old grandmother in Mercer County’s Hamilton Township, Mrs. Jones. She joined the ranks of homeschoolers this March. Mrs. Jones is not only caring for her ill husband, but by working in online learning platforms to assist her kindergarten-aged grandson, has expanded her technological skill set.

Through perseverance and a little bit of coaching, Mrs. Jones is now more comfortable helping her grandson with the daily requirements of cyber-learning such as logging on to online class meetings; monitoring reading, writing, and math assignments in Google Classroom; accessing books online; following up with emails, and communicating with teachers via the Class Dojo app.

Familiarizing oneself with multiple learning platforms can be overwhelming even for the most tech-savvy person. But older Americans, like Mrs. Jones, are courageously balancing the duties of being a caregiver for an ailing spouse, running a household and homeschooling an active kindergartener.

I admire Mrs. Jones for her tenacity and grit during this challenging time. She admits that working with technology is frustrating, and she felt like giving up, but I encouraged her to take care of herself and to do her best. Her best is amazing!

Other ways older adults can share knowledge/expertise

I encourage all older adults who are caring for and/or homeschooling young family members to share their knowledge and expertise by:

  • Having conversations
  • Counting and grouping the number of tiles on the floor
  • Finding a pattern in the carpet
    • *I mentioned subitizing before. Subitizing is a hot topic in math education circles. It means “instantly seeing how many.” Math educators have discovered that the ability to see numbers in patterns is the foundation of strong number sense. Visit https://mylearningspringboard.com/subitizing/
  • Following a recipe using measuring spoons and cups
  • Writing a song together and recording Tik-Tok videos of you singing
  • Coloring in coloring books
  • Listening to books on tape or online together
    • This website features videos of actors reading children’s books, alongside creatively produced illustrations. Activity guides are available for each book. https://www.storylineonline.net/
  • Teaching them how to play a card game

Other resources to use

Older adults have much to give and young people, much to receive! I would dare to guess that there are many Mrs. Joneses here in New Jersey. Are you one? You deserve our gratitude, respect and support.

As a New Jersey educator, I would like to thank all of the caring and brave older Americans in our state who are committed to sharing their knowledge, wisdom, love and expertise to help our students continue to grow and learn!

Dr. Smith is the featured guest on Episode 106 of Aging Insights, with host Melissa Chalker — watch “Learning Together” now!

Dr. Charisse Smith of Trenton earned a Ph.D. in Education with a specialization in Professional Studies. She serves on the boards of New Jersey Foundation for Aging and Notre Dame High School, is an Instructional Coach with the Hamilton Township Public Schools, President of ETE-Excellence Through Education of Hamilton Township and is the owner of Sankofa Educational Consulting, LLC.  Dr. Smith proudly notes that she has been married for 23 years and has two beautiful children!

 

The COVID-19 Crisis at NJ’s Long-Term Care Facilities


We’d like to thank guest blogger and NJFA friend
Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman, for her blog post.

By Laurie Facciarossa Brewer, NJ’s Long-Term Care Ombudsman

The COVID-19 crisis in long-term care facilities is an unprecedented national tragedy. Around the country, tens of thousands of vulnerable residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities have died.

In fact, as of today in New Jersey, more than 5,400 long-term care residents have lost their lives due to the pandemic. To better put this into perspective, these deaths are more than half of New Jersey’s total cases.

Not only are the numbers themselves horrifying, but the inability of family and friends to physically be there with their loved ones in their final moments-as facilities were locked down to attempt to prevent more infection-makes it all the more painful and traumatic.

I mourn and hold dear the loss of each of these residents and wish peace and healing for their loved ones. And I am deeply concerned about the health and welfare of the long-term care residents who remain, and about the staff who care for them.

As an independent state agency that advocates for long-term care residents by investigating allegations of abuse and mistreatment, the New Jersey Office of the Long-Term Care (NJ LTCO) Ombudsman has been in the forefront in attempting to help residents and families deal with any issues or problems they may be having during this health emergency.

The investigation process

Usually, when we receive a complaint or concern, we make an unannounced visit to the resident in question and obtain consent to do an investigation.

Unfortunately, those visits stopped on March 13 when the federal and state government decided to severely restrict any visits to long-term care facilities, including by state regulators, families and representatives of the Ombudsman program.

The sudden inability to go into the facilities to witness what was happening there–to see firsthand the staffing levels and the physical conditions­­–and to have to rely on phone calls, FaceTime and other technologies to gain insight into what was truly happening, was very jarring and required some out-of-the-box thinking.

Fortunately, the NJ LTCO has highly seasoned and experienced investigators who have deep contacts in, and experience with, long-term care facilities in New Jersey.

In addition, the NJ LTCO has more than 200 highly trained volunteer ombudsmen assigned to an equal number of nursing homes. Under normal circumstances, these volunteers would be in their assigned nursing home every week, speaking with residents and handling their concerns.

So, even though we are not visiting LTC facilities, the NJ LTCO is well-positioned to reach deep into a facility and identify the right person who can solve problems for residents and their families.

Our volunteers continue to keep in contact with residents in nursing homes and have distributed letters reminding residents that the NJ LTCO is still here to assist them with any problems they may be having.

The dramatic increase in calls and cases

Our investigators have never been busier.

During March and April, calls to the NJ LTCO intake line increased by 40 percent, as did the number of cases opened for investigation.

The types of complaints that we have been receiving reflect the deepening crisis in long-term care. Here are some examples:

  • A woman called to tell us that her 56-year-old sister was on a ventilator, fighting for her life after being diagnosed with COVID-19. The long-term care facility in which her sister lived, she alleged, had refused to send her sister to the hospital.
  • A 71-year-old, bed-bound resident called the NJ LTCO to complain that she was not receiving her medication and that she hadn’t been changed–and was sitting in her own urine for more than 24 hours.
  • A nurse called to tell us that she was the only one who showed up to care for more than 60 residents during an evening shift in a nursing home.
  • A man called to see if we could find his mother, who was COVID-19-positive, had a fever and had been hurriedly moved out of her nursing into another one–with no advance notice to the family. He didn’t know if his mother was dead or alive.
  • A family member called to report that he was informed that his father had a fever, that COVID-19 was suspected and that he was fine. He was called 90 minutes later and told that his father had died.
  • Multiple staff members called the NJ LTCO intake line to report that they were not given proper personal protection equipment (PPE) in order to care for residents safely.
  • Dozens of family members called us to state that their loved ones died of COVID-19, alone and without family by their side. Most of these callers alleged care neglect due to poor staffing.

As this crisis unfolds into late spring and early summer, it appears that there is more PPE and more testing available. These are the two things that are absolutely critical to stemming the tide of this horrific virus and getting to a place where our office, state regulators, and families and friends can once again visit long-term care residents.

Stepping up outreach

In the meantime, here at the NJ LTCO, we continue to adapt to this new reality. While we look forward to the day when we can go back into long-term care facilities, we are stepping up our outreach to residents via newsletters, direct phone calls and utilization of tablets and smart phones.

In mid-May, we began to distribute a resident-focused monthly newsletter to residents of long-term care facilities. In the inaugural edition, we remind residents that they have rights and that they can always call us for assistance. In addition, we remind them that most of them will get a $1,200 stimulus payment as a result of the COVID-19-related CARES Act and that this money is theirs-and no one can take it from them.

Conditions at long-term care facilities; hope for the ensuing months

I wish I could say that the tragedy of COVID-19 in our long-term care facilities was totally unforeseeable, but that would not be the whole truth. While the scope and speed at which the COVID-19 tragedy unfolded were certainly new, the conditions in many of our long-term care facilities were ripe to fuel this type of situation.

In the ensuing months, it is my hope that we will see the effects of this terrible virus wane in long-term care facilities. In its wake, I am sure that there will be a clear-eyed assessment of how we, as a society, could have done more to protect vulnerable elderly and disabled people living in residential settings. We have learned much about this virus and the terrible toll it can take in long-term care facilities. My expectation is that we all will apply the lessons we have learned so that we are better prepared for any future outbreaks.

The thousands of souls we have lost and the thousands of vulnerable elderly and disabled people currently living in long-term care facilities deserve at least that much.

For more information on the LTCO, visit nj.gov/ooie/. The LTCO can be reached by calling 1-877-582-6995 or by email at ombudsman@ltco.nj.gov.

Any opinions expressed within guest blogs are those of the author and are not necessarily held by NJ Foundation for Aging.

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