Day: March 16, 2020

Next Avenue: How to make sure your loved one is protected from coronavirus if they’re in a nursing home

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As confirmed cases of the coronavirus (Covid-19) continue to spread across the U.S., concern for our own health and our loved ones’ health is understandably high. It’s especially worrisome for older adults, who are more vulnerable to this infection; for people with underlying health conditions or for those living in a congregate setting like a nursing home or an assisted living facility.

The recent news of multiple deaths at a nursing home near Seattle has led the American Health Care Association (AHCA), representing more than 13,500 long-term care facilities, to recommend no social visits to nursing homes. A statement to nursing home owners on the AHCA’s website says: “The top priority at this point with Covid-19 is to prevent the virus from entering your nursing home, given the high case fatality rate in the elderly, which preliminary data shows at 15% or greater.”

As the New York Times reported, the “no-visits” policy some nursing homes are adopting is causing hardship for residents and family members who want to see each other.

People who are worried about their loved ones in nursing homes and assisted living communities need to know those facilities are doing all they can to protect residents, but how can they be sure?

“It’s natural if family members are worried,” says Dee Pekruhn, director of life plan communities services and policy at LeadingAge, an association of nonprofit providers of aging services, including nursing homes. Her own mother is in an assisted living facility.

Also read: ‘Social distancing’ comes at a massive economic cost, but it’s now the only way to save millions of lives

“Know who your loved one’s caregivers are, and be in contact with them. I certainly do that with my mom regularly,” Pekruhn says, referring to the facility’s staff members who regularly see and care for her mother.

LeadingAge has set up a webpage to help its members prepare and minimize risk of a potential outbreak, following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Facilities should also be sharing information about coronavirus with family members, similar to what this Georgia-based nonprofit is doing.

Infections can spread easily in long-term care

Over 4 million Americans are admitted to, or reside in, nursing homes and skilled nursing facilities each year, and nearly 1 million live in assisted living facilities, according to the CDC. Data about infections in long-term care settings are limited, but researchers estimate 1 million to 3 million serious infections occur every year. These include respiratory tract, gastrointestinal and antibiotic-resistant illnesses like influenza, pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus, norovirus and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), among others.

Influenza ranks among the most commonly reported causes of outbreaks of infectious disease in nursing homes; outbreaks can occur even when resident vaccination rates are greater than 90%.

Nursing home residents tend to have multiple chronic diseases and other conditions that make them more susceptible to infection. They share sources of air, food, water and medical care, which expedite the introduction and subsequent transmission of certain infectious agents among vulnerable residents.

Visitors, staff and residents constantly come and go, bringing in pathogens from the hospital and the community. That’s why every facility is required to have an infection control and prevention plan in place.

What is the facility doing to protect people?

However, some experts worry that the national staffing shortage in long-term care settings, especially among nurses, will affect a facility’s capacity to respond appropriately to the coronavirus.

Also read: Some ways the coronavirus will affect your stock portfolio aren’t all bad

“The biggest thing for families is to talk to administrators of the nursing homes and find out exactly what they’re doing. And find out if they’re bringing in more staff, if they have enough RNs [registered nurses] and if infectious disease experts are looking at what they’re doing,” says Charlene Harrington, professor of nursing and sociology at the University of California San Francisco, who has advised the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on nursing home quality for more than a decade. “Try to put the pressure on because it’s not very feasible to move people.”

During a serious outbreak of any communicable illness, a decision to ban visitors is usually made by the CDC, state or city public health department. It’s not a call that’s made lightly. Facilities must balance the resident safety with resident rights, says Jodi Eyigor, LeadingAge’s director of nursing home quality and policy.

“If you’re living in a nursing home during something like this, it’s pretty frightening to be cut off from your family members,” Eyigor says.

Last week, CMS announced several actions aimed at preventing the spread of Covid-19. It reminded health care facilities to ensure appropriate infection control procedures are in place; addressed concerns about screening staff and visitors and provided guidance on steps to take if Covid-19 was suspected or identified.

CMS also plans to beef up inspections of facilities for serious health and safety violations.

Prudent prevention in place

Anywhere older people congregate in large numbers is a source of concern for health officials. Anne Blesch, 66, a retired nurse with a graduate degree in epidemiology, lives on the independent side of a continuing care retirement community in Florida. Management there has taken basic, but important, steps to help minimize the spread of infection.

“The self-serve salad and soup bars in the dining room were closed, so two or three hundred people aren’t handling the same sets of tongs,” she says. Instead, one person behind the counter now serves residents.

Blesch says social events and activities have been canceled. Notices were sent to residents asking them to stay in their apartments if they were sick, telling sick visitors to stay away and to limit even healthy visitors. Residents who use the building’s fitness center are asked to wipe down equipment after use.

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“I think they’re bending over backward not to get too draconian about it. They’re doing really reasonable things,” Blesch ays.

Questions to ask administrators about infection prevention

CMS has a list of suggested questions loved ones of people in long-term care facilities should ask administrators about their general infection prevention procedures. Among them:

  • How does the facility communicate with residents, family and visitors when an outbreak of any type occurs?
  • Are ill staff members allowed to stay home without losing pay? If they are not, they are more likely to come to work sick and inadvertently infect residents.
  • Does the facility have private rooms for residents who develop signs or symptoms of a potentially contagious infection (cough, fever, abdominal pain)?
  • How are staffers trained to respond to questions about hand hygiene from residents and family?
  • How is shared equipment (such as objects in the therapy area or common room) managed to prevent the spread of germs?

Family members may want to bring in hand sanitizers and sanitizing wipes for loved ones living in long-term care facilities. “I would just recommend that they always check with the nursing home or make sure the staff knows that you’re doing that and that you are communicating,” Eyigor says. That’s because some products may interact with disinfectants the facility is already using.

Eyigor is confident that most nursing homes are doing their utmost to minimize the risk of transmission. “These are scenarios that our providers are very used to handling through their emergency operating procedures and infection control plans,” she says.

However, Harrington thinks more pressure is needed on state governments to enforce infectious disease management. “Even supposedly good nursing homes are operating way below what they should have on staffing, and they get these four and five stars (from CMS’ Nursing Home Compare), even though staffing isn’t what experts say it needs to be,” she says.

Fewer than 5% of older adults live in nursing homes and 2% live in assisted living, according to LeadingAge. Older adults living in single-family and multifamily settings also are at risk for the coronavirus, and may not have the benefit of heightened awareness and plans for infection control.

Everyone needs to be mindful of older adults’ vulnerability about coronavirus, as well as other serious diseases like influenza, and be proactive in following recommendations from public health officials regarding prevention.

New York-based journalist Liz Seegert has spent more than 30 years reporting and writing about health and general news topics for print, digital and broadcast media.

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Next Avenue: Now is a good time to do an annual retirement plan checkup—here’s how

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Who isn’t thinking about their retirement accounts these days? It’s been a whipsaw of a ride for 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement funds lately. Stock and bond markets have been wild due to the coronavirus’ impact on the global economy. My advice: Don’t overreact, but do use this as a time for an annual assessment of your retirement planning.

Markets go up and down, and if you’re in your 50s or 60s, you still likely have years ahead of working and earning an income. So, the market swings shouldn’t cause you great alarm (though they’re no fun).

I get the anxiety. It’s tempting to make swift changes to your portfolio in turbulent times. But hold your horses. It’s best to instead intentionally and pragmatically adjust your retirement planning as part of an annual routine. That way, you’ll stay focused on the long game.

5 tips for an annual retirement planning checkup

Here are my five recommendations for an annual retirement-planning checkup:

1. Rebalance your retirement accounts. Financial advisers generally suggest rebalancing (that is, adjusting the mix of your stocks and bonds) whenever your portfolio gets more than 7 to 10% away from your original asset allocation matching your risk tolerance and goals.

One rule many financial planners use for determining what percentage of your portfolio should be in stocks: subtract your age from 110. So, a 60-year-old would have 50% in stocks and the rest in bonds and cash.

See: How to hang on during a wild stock market ride

Taking a look under the hood once a year (not every time the market swings) is a technique that generally keeps your portfolio on course, so it doesn’t get weighted down in one sector. The aim is to always spread your investments across a range of asset classes, from large companies and dividend-paying stocks to emerging-growth firms to global stocks and bond-fund indexes.

2. Get estimates of your future Social Security and pension benefits. Go to Social Security’s website,, to open your “my Social Security” account, if you haven’t already. (If you already have an account there — good for you!) Use the calculator on the site to help estimate your future Social Security benefits and to see a record of your lifetime earnings history.

Reading your Social Security statement can prompt you about how much you need to save for retirement and help you begin figuring out when to start claiming Social Security benefits. 

If you work for an employer that offers a pension plan, or have in the past, check with a human resources person there to determine the status of your benefit and any vesting, or payout, rules. You’ll likely be able to learn how much your pension benefit would be if you started taking it at various ages.

Don’t miss: Retiring soon? Here’s how you should handle these crazy market drops

And if you’re still working at the employer that will provide a pension, see if it offers phased retirement — which could let you gradually reduce your work hours — and what effect taking it would have on your pension benefit.

3. Assess when, how and if you plan to retire. Many of us want to keep working beyond a traditional retirement age for the mental engagement as well as the money. You might be thinking of retiring from a primary career and launching an encore one or even starting a business.

Once a year, think through your plans.

The added income from working longer can relieve financial anxiety about outliving your money. After all, the more earning years you have to build savings in a retirement plan like a 401(k) or an IRA, the better off you’ll be down the road.

Your monthly Social Security benefit may grow, too. You could have more earning years for the formula calculating how much you’ll receive. And delaying when you start claiming Social Security increases the benefit 8% a year from your Full Retirement Age until age 70. Plus, working longer lets you delay tapping retirement funds, which can continue to grow, and help pay for health insurance.

Some excellent books that can help you get started pondering what you might want to pivot to for bonus working years: “The Encore Career Handbook,” “Second Act Careers,” “Purpose and a Paycheck” and (shameless plug for one of mine) “Great Jobs for Everyone 50+.”

4. Create, or update, a retirement spending budget and a retirement income plan. Estimating your annual retirement expenses and matching those against money you expect will be coming in is worth penciling out sooner rather than later.

For the expenses side of the ledger, write down your current recurring fixed expenses, such as your mortgage or rent payment, health insurance premiums, utilities and so forth. Then increase for inflation any that could rise by the time you retire. This exercise will provide a retirement spending guide, although some of the expenses may drop if you’ll relocate or when you enroll in Medicare at 65 or pay off a mortgage.

Some new expenses will crop up in retirement, though. For example, travel outlays, gifts for grandchildren, lifetime-learning tuition and spending on hobbies. So add in ballpark figures for these or other costs you expect to incur.

Then, for the income side, make a list of how much you expect to receive (and when) from: pensions, employer-sponsored retirement-savings plan and tax-deferred retirement accounts, as well as from Social Security and investments outside retirement plans.

5. Pay down debts. Finally, if possible, use your annual retirement-planning review to reduce or eliminate high-interest credit card payments, college loans and auto loans.

Debt can be a real dream killer in retirement. So, the earlier you start to get a grip on this, the more you’ll be able to enjoy retirement.

Kerry Hannon is the author of “Never Too Old to Get Rich: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Starting a Business Mid-Life.” She has covered personal finance, retirement and careers for the New York Times, Forbes, Money, U.S. News & World Report and USA Today, among other publications. She is the author of a dozen books. Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

This article is reprinted by permission from, © 2020 Twin Cities Public Television, Inc. All rights reserved.

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NerdWallet: 3 tips to avoid being a victim of coronavirus shopping frenzy

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This article is reprinted by permission from NerdWallet.

Coronavirus is causing world-wide worry. Here in America, it’s also spurring high prices, empty shelves, long lines and full shopping carts.

In light of coronavirus concerns, Americans are buying cleaning products and household supplies in bulk. And the effects are striking.

  • Retailers like Target TGT, +9.07%   have started limiting quantities of certain products.
  • Bath & Body Works has notified its shoppers that hand sanitizers are selling fast online, so they should go to a local store or check back.
  • Third-party sellers on Amazon AMZN, +6.46%   have been accused of jacking up prices of surgical masks and hand sanitizers. In some cases, prices spiked by at least 50% compared with the 90-day average price, according to a recent analysis by U.S. PIRG Education Fund.

From the outside, it appears coronavirus is reshaping shopping behavior. But does that mean you should adjust yours, too?

“Buy what you need, but don’t buy more than what you need. Especially because somebody else could use it.”

Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University
Don’t shop just because you think you should

“Unfortunately, the psychology of this whole disease has kind of changed the way people think in regards to buying things,” says Patrick Penfield, professor of supply chain practice at the Martin J. Whitman School of Management at Syracuse University.

“In their minds, they want to buy more to protect themselves.”

The higher retail prices for personal health items such as hand sanitizers are largely being triggered by this higher consumer demand, according to Christopher Newman, associate professor of marketing at the University of Mississippi.

Related: Stop panic-buying toilet paper: How to stock up smart, emergency or not

He believes some people are basing their purchases on media coverage as well as other consumers’ behaviors.

“Nearly constant exposure to videos and pictures of other consumers frantically buying supplies in bulk scares many into doing the same,” Newman said, in an email.

Higher costs accompanying these in-demand products are normal. But some people are trying to profit off the frenzy, buying products and selling them for outrageous prices through online marketplaces.

“When there is more demand, typically what will happen is prices will go up,” Penfield says. “In this particular case, I don’t think they’re going to go up too much with the actual producers themselves. I think it will be the places where people think they can make money based on shortages.”

Tip: Don’t spend $100 on a hand sanitizer. If you really need one, consult other retailers to see how prices compare. U.S. PIRG Education Fund recommends using price-tracking tools like CamelCamelCamel to check a product’s price history. This will inform you if a product’s price has rapidly increased.

Don’t worry about buying everything right now

Contrary to how it might look, the world won’t be out of hand sanitizer forever, according to Darrin Duber-Smith, a senior lecturer of marketing at Metropolitan State University of Denver. Or toilet paper, for that matter.

Also see: As coronavirus spreads, CDC warns Americans about traveling within the U.S.

The products that are running low or selling out on shelves right now were actually manufactured months ago.

“This stuff is ordered six months out,” Duber-Smith says.

Right now, he assumes toilet paper, tissue paper and hand sanitizer companies are working around the clock to make new supplies. But they need to buy the raw materials first, so there’s a lack of inventory in the interim before excess quantities are manufactured.

Getty Images
Shoppers lined up outside a Costco before it opened the morning on March 12, 2020 in Glendale, California. Once the store opened, the line moved smoothly and most people were able to enter to make purchases within about 15 minutes.

“A shortage happens in between the time when the disaster happens,” he says. “All of those currently made supplies are used up, and then it takes about two months or so for all of the companies to order all of their materials and ramp up manufacturing.”

That can lead stores to ration. Duber-Smith says it’s similar to a wartime measure. And it allows more people to get the items they need. For example, 50 people could get 1 bottle of hand sanitizer each, instead of one person buying the whole shelf and leaving 49 people to pay $100 a bottle from a third-party seller online.

Tip: Be considerate. When you do find disinfectants or other supplies, be mindful of others. “It’s about availability,” Penfield says. “If you see something, buy what you need, but don’t buy more than what you need. Especially because somebody else could use it.”

Don’t leave yourself unprepared

For many Americans, it’s still possible to go to the store as needed and shop like normal.

But for at-risk groups, the prospect of staying home for a prolonged period has become more of a reality, which could make routine shopping trips difficult. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises those over age 60 to be prepared with medicine, household items and groceries.

More: How do I self-quarantine? Can I walk my dog? Be warned, there can be legal consequences if you violate it

Furthermore, the American Red Cross recommends helping family members and neighbors, especially those who are at a higher risk of getting very sick from the virus.

If you’re looking to buy supplies — because you are a member of a vulnerable group, you’re assisting someone who is or you’re limiting your own exposure in public — and are facing high prices or shortages, try places you don’t usually shop. If you can’t find certain items at supermarkets or big box stores, look at drugstores, office supply stores or even home improvement stores (yes, they sell paper towels and soap).

Skip the items you don’t absolutely need so you aren’t wasting your time and money. Check with the CDC to see what’s recommended before you begin hunting for things.

And stay informed about your own risk. Follow the latest news from the CDC so you know how your area of the country is being affected by coronavirus.

Tip: Use this experience as an impetus to get prepared for any type of emergency or disaster that may happen in the future. “After the virus is contained and we resume our normal routines, people should consider putting together a small stockpile of necessities,” Newman said. “That way they’ll already be prepared when the next panicked rush of consumers hits retail stores — and even likely save some money in the process.”

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Courtney Jespersen is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: Twitter: @CourtneyNerd.

Kelley Blue Book: Here’s how GM plans to reach its big EV goals

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  • GM plans an all-electric future
  • Sets 2025 goal for a million EVs a year in the U.S. and China
  • New EV architecture include Ultium battery announced
  • EV models and prototypes from all four GM brands displayed

Betting big on an all-electric future, GM GM, +7.25%   Chairman and CEO Mary T. Barra said that “We want to put everyone in an EV, and we have what it takes to do it.” This clean-sheet approach promises battery-electric vehicles for every GM brand, body style, and price point in the market.

In addition to building vehicles, GM will develop the infrastructure needed to make EV ownership more convenient, affordable and fun. Already, the company has announced plans to triple charging availability at its facilities in the next year. GM believes its workforce can influence the wider acceptance of EVs. As a result, it is making EV ownership and the EV experience easier for them.

GM will also make its new battery technology, called “Ultium,” available for licensing by other manufacturers.

GM’s all-electric future

Barra said GM believes that climate change is real, requiring a transition to an all-electric future. GM currently re-uses or recycles all out-of-service EV batteries. Future battery technology will be developed with an eye toward sustainability, and reduced dependence on precious metals.

Also see: Tesla’s stock falls after GM fires ‘shot across the bow’ with EV plans

Not lost in the equation is the issue of profitability. Both Barra and GM President Mark Reuss emphasized that the EV program plans to deliver profitable operations from its outset. GM will “reinvent the company and reset our brands,” according to Reuss. “Thousands of GM scientists, engineers and designers are working to execute a historic reinvention of the company,” he said. “They are on the cusp of delivering a profitable EV business that can satisfy millions of customers.”

Ultium battery announced

GM revealed new Ultium battery technology that employs large-format, pouch-style cells. This design gives engineers several options for placement and packaging, thanks to their flat, rectangular shape. Ultium cells are stacked vertically or horizontally, depending on the application, resulting in taller or shorter battery modules. The batteries use relatively low amounts of cobalt, an expensive and non-sustainable element of battery chemistry. GM’s joint venture with LG Chem aims to further reduce cobalt use as part of delivering a cost below $100 per kWh. GM is counting on scale to drive costs lower by manufacturing batteries under license for other car makers.

Ultium battery modules contain 12 to 24 cells each. EVs will have 6, 8, 10 or 12 modules each, depending on power and range requirements. GM believes it will be possible to replace cells in a module without replacing (or discarding) it. The electronics will adjust for the newly upgraded battery technology. This future-proofing of technology guards against obsolescence and supports sustainability.

In concert with the new Ultium battery, GM will introduce a new generation of electric motors. The motors, which will vary in kW output rating, are for use in single or dual linked applications employing housings that connect to front and/or rear axles (depending on front-, rear- or all-wheel drive configuration). The electronic control units mount directly to the motor housings, eliminating the complexity and cost of heavy-duty exposed wiring.

Cross-brand platforms

To make use of the new Ultium batteries, GM engineered an all-new vehicle architecture. This EV-exclusive platform is a “skateboard” design noted for its flexibility. It accommodates a range of battery modules and configures to multiple wheelbases, tracks, ride heights and overhangs. It can underpin everything from roadsters to pickup trucks. GM will retool and reconfigure several of its manufacturing facilities, including Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, which will be the flagship of the company’s EV manufacturing effort.

This new architecture will be shared by vehicles from all four of GM’s brands: Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, and GMC. GM also showed existing and future applications of its EV technology.

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In the Design Dome were the facelifted 2021 Chevrolet Bolt EV and the new 2021 Chevrolet Bolt BUV, a crossover SUV version of the Bolt with a 3-inch longer wheelbase. It also showcases the first non-Cadillac availability of Super Cruise.

Two versions of the new GMC Hummer EV were present in pickup and SUV body styles. Both sport removable Targa-style roof panels, which will store in the EV’s front trunk. Also on display, new Chevrolet and Buick SUVs, along with a Buick crossover were there to demonstrate the range of design possibilities.

See: What to expect from the Hummer electric pickup

Cadillac revealed the Lyriq SUV that wore the new front fascia that will be “the face of Cadillac.” It also unveiled the new Celestiq concept car, a full-size Cadillac EV sedan that will be hand-built in low volumes in Michigan. Touted as “the ultimate luxury experience,” the sleek sedan featured a low roofline, a dramatic dash-to-axle distance, and a controversial rear-end treatment – just the kind of stunner that a concept car should be to stir up conversation.

Charging and infrastructure plans

In addition to increasing charging stations at its facilities, GM plans to improve charging accessibility for its customers. Studies have shown that most charging occurs either at home or office. Public charging accounts for about only about 20 percent. GM said that people are six times as likely to buy an EV if charging is available at their workplace, termed “opportunity charging.”

Faster home charging requires a Level 2, 240-volt system. To help find local contractors for installation, GM is partnering with Qmerit allowing consumers to obtain three bids from local contractors.

Additionally, GM announced a new app called “Energy Assist,” which allows users to search for the nearest open public charging station, plan trips, and manage memberships/payments to competing charging companies, greatly reducing the complexity of EV operation. The app will also optimize charging times for the best rates.

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