Anyone who has ever spent time in a nursing home, whether as a resident, employee or family member, know how easily communicable diseases and infections can spread in such an environment. This includes everything from the common cold to C. diff. The coronavirus is proving to be no exception.
A nursing home in Washington state is considered to be an epicenter for the coronavirus outbreak in the state and in the country. More than 20 residents have died, half of the current residents have tested positive for coronavirus and over 35 percent of staff did not report to work this week because they exhibited symptoms, The Washington Post reported. Those staff members that do come to work are risking their own health for substandard wages. Their desire to continue providing care for the residents during a national health crisis is admirable, but we must do more to support them.
While younger people may only experience mild symptoms with a coronavirus infection, our elders are most susceptible to experiencing severe symptoms that require hospitalization. As government officials and talking heads argue who is responsible for this country’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak, nursing homes across the country are facing a major challenge and the lives of our elder loved ones are at risk.
It’s no wonder why nursing homes are breeding grounds for such an outbreak. You have a community of older people, many with underlying health conditions that can lead to a weaker immune system. Some may have cognitive challenges that make such simple guidance as “wash your hands” difficult to follow. Nursing homes under normal conditions are typically understaffed. Infection control and cleaning protocols may get overlooked or shortcuts may be taken by harried staff or by the corporate office looking to maximize profit.
The coronavirus outbreak may prompt nursing homes to take actions that will help protect residents from a variety of diseases and infections. The spotlight is on them and they may finally be held accountable for deficiencies in care. (The Department of Justice recently launched a National Nursing Home Initiative that will enhance civil and criminal penalties for nursing home companies who provide substandard care.)
- Barring most visitors: While this may seem cruel, it is necessary to limit the risk of infection that visitors pose to residents. Facilities are encouraging residents to use technology, such as Skype calls and the FaceTime app to stay in touch with residents. Phone calls are also encouraged.
- Limiting or temporary canceling group activities: Limiting the infection risk associated with large gatherings is an important component of infection control.
- Increased sanitizing of shared surfaces: Any surfaces or objects used by more than one staff member or resident should receive frequent sanitizing.
- For facilities with confirmed coronavirus cases: Additional steps must be taken, including isolating those who test positive, have meals delivered to rooms versus serving meals in a cafeteria setting, and ensuring staff where proper protective gear when interacting with residents.
If you have a loved one in a nursing home, remain vigilant and ask about what plans the facility has in place to address the coronavirus epidemic. Don’t be afraid to speak up and contact your local health officials if you feel that a facility is not providing the level of care it needs to in order to keep residents safe.
And if you know someone who works in a care center, make sure to reach out to them to show how much you appreciate them. Do whatever you can to support them.