Coronavirus Puts Spotlight on Infection Control at Facilities for Seniors

April 1st, 2020
By: Content Staff

The deaths of at least 18 patients at a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash., have illustrated the devastating toll the coronavirus can take on the elderly, raising questions about the safety of seniors at nursing homes, assisted-living facilities and skilled-nursing facilities around the country.

In early March, executives in the nursing-home industry encouraged facilities to ban social visits to residents until the epidemic subsides. Despite those recommendations, health officials have been urging the public not to panic since the risk of contracting COVID-19 remains quite low, according to an article in Forbes. These facilities should be following a good infection-control program throughout the year, regardless of the headlines, the magazine said.
At a news conference in early March, Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the effects of the coronavirus are especially severe for the elderly and people with comorbidities such as heart disease, diabetes, asthma or obesity. It’s important to note, however, that Fauci didn’t say seniors are more likely to contract the disease, Forbes said. He merely said that in the unlikely event that they get sick, their symptoms and risk will be more severe.

The common flu, which has killed thousands of Americans already this year, still poses a far greater risk to seniors and the public at large, health officials have said. However, COVID-19 still is a serious matter since it is easily transmittable and there currently is no treatment or vaccine.
Beyond encouraging residents and visitors at senior facilities to wash their hands, Forbes recommends that family members ask questions to make sure their elderly loved ones are in a facility that is practicing good infection control. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a simple factsheet for consumers entitled “Top 10 Infection Prevention Questions to Ask a Nursing Home’s Leaders.”

This list of questions, created long before the coronavirus emerged, includes:
● What does the facility do to ensure handwashing by staff, residents and families?
● Do facilities provide paid time off to workers who are sick and encourage them to stay home?
●Do facilities have the capacity to isolate residents who have an infectious disease?
● When was the most recent outbreak of infectious disease in the facility, and how did management respond?
Family members shouldn’t be afraid to ask these questions, and if they aren’t satisfied with the answers, they should consider another facility, Forbes said. Family members also can observe whether workers wash or sanitize their hands before and after entering patients’ or residents’ rooms. Other things to look for, according to Forbes:
● Does the facility have signs reminding staff of the importance of infection control?
● Is food being handled properly?
● How does the facility respond to a resident who is coughing, sneezing or appears to be ill?

If family members don’t like what they see or are unsure, they should ask an aide or a nurse, Forbes said.

If a senior who needs physical therapy following surgery can get those services at home, that may be better than sending that patient to a rehabilitation center, according to Forbes, but it’s not a failsafe strategy. The physical therapist might be working part time in a rehab facility that doesn’t have a good infection-control program, or the PT could be visiting other at-risk patients in their homes, the magazine said.

Overall, Forbes said, the coronavirus shouldn’t affect the decision to send a senior to a rehab facility or assisted-living facility, so long as it’s a high-quality facility that practices strong infection-control practices.

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