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Seniors seek nurses, social workers for their buildings to prevent spread of coronavirus

The Jane Addams Senior Caucus says not enough is being done to protect residents at the 169 senior apartment buildings in Chicago from COVID-19.

This file photo from July 2018 shows a member of the Jane Addams Senior Caucus partaking in a staged “die-in” in the lobby of Chicago Housing Authority. The caucus released a set of demands Thursday for the CHA and management

A group of seniors citizens released a set of demands Thursday that they say would better protect them from the coronavirus in their senior apartment buildings.

The demands were presented in a virtual news conference summoned by the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, an activist group with members in several of the 169 senior buildings in the city, including those owned by the Chicago Housing Authority.

The caucus wants all public and private senior buildings across the city bring in nurses and social workers to perform routine wellness checks and to screen visitors for symptoms of COVID-19. Seniors also want all high-touch surface areas in their buildings like mailboxes, elevators and laundry machines disinfected at least three times a day.

“As a resident of a CHA senior building managed by The Habitat Company, I am here to tell you that we are basically on our own,” said 77-year-old caucus member Linda Armitage. “We need more than letters and signs to make sure vulnerable senior citizens remain healthy while confined to their apartments.”

Those “letters and signs” were put up by the by the CHA in mid-March to warn residents about the coronavirus. The CHA said it has translated those signs into 13 languages and has has conducted thousands of wellbeing checks on senior residents.

Armitage said she received one of those wellbeing checks last week over the phone. “But [the] call was very perfunctory,” she said. The person on the other line, a resident coordinator with the CHA, asked if Armitage felt ill, and “I answered I was fine, thanks. She responded, ‘Oh, good, goodbye.’”

“The lack of concern ... is unconscionable neglect by CHA, its management companies and the city of Chicago,” Armitage said. “There have been no attempts to find out if transportation is needed to go to the doctor or to buy food or to pick up prescriptions. There are no lists of area food banks or stores with senior hours.”

The Habitat Co. said it has “implemented a number of precautionary measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19” across its portfolio, such as sanitizing high-touch areas and minimizing the number of guests at each building.

The CHA said its employees have already told building staff to clean high-touch surface areas three times a day, but Ald. Maria Hadden (49th) said there is no coordinated effort among all senior buildings to provide a baseline of support for their residents during a pandemic.

“I’ve been in contact with several [management] companies, and while they have been responsive, many of them don’t have public health emergency policies. They have no plan in place other than what the [Center for Disease Control and Prevention] has put out,” she said.

“That’s where we need to step up as a city and have a plan that we can push that outlines what needs to be done.”

Hadden said she will soon introduce an ordinance that would require senior buildings to implement some of the demands presented by the caucus. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for April 22.

Nearly 7,700 Illinois residents have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Thursday. Of the 157 who have died from the virus, 85% are age 60 and older, according to health officials.

Carlos Ballesteros is a corps member of Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side

Editor’s note: This article was updated to include The Habitat Co.’s response.