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Infections in Nursing Homes and COVID-19: What Needs to Happen Now

two masks on red background

While COVID-19 has the potential to infect anyone, the elderly are the most at risk for developing serious complications from the virus. Based on data from Pennsylvania and the federal government, nursing homes have been some of the most affected areas when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus. As a result, hundreds of thousands have been infected and tens of thousands have died. In order to prevent more deaths and prepare for potential future outbreaks, it’s important for nursing homes to look at how they handled the COVID-19 outbreak and determine what needs to happen now.

Coronavirus Infections and Deaths in Nursing Homes          

According to the latest data from the New York Times, more than 153,000 nursing home residents and workers have been infected by COVID-19 at approximately 7,700 facilities across the country. As a result, at least 28,100 have died from the illness.

COVID-19 is particularly lethal to older adults with underlying health conditions. It’s also easier for the virus to spread through congregate facilities with many people living in a confined environment.

In addition to the elderly population being more at risk for complications from the coronavirus, there’s also the matter that many nursing home facilities were not prepared for such an outbreak. Inadequate personal protective gear and incomplete or nonexistent crisis plans likely contributed to many of the infections.

Preparing for Future Outbreaks in Nursing Homes

With a second COVID-19 wave likely in the fall, it’s important for long-term care facilities to take what they’ve learned from the first wave and implement more mitigation efforts. The first starts with testing. It’s going to be imperative to test residents and staff members in the event someone gets sick. If one person tests positive, it’s likely that more are or will be positive. There’s little known regarding contagion at this time, so it’s possible people who were already sick could get infected again.

Nursing homes also need to make sure they have an adequate stockpile of personal protective equipment—which refers to equipment that’s worn to minimize exposure to hazards and infections. For nursing home residents, this means masks. For staff members, they will need masks and could benefit from tieback suits, eye protection or face shield, and gloves. All PPE needs to be disposed of properly, so contaminated materials don’t come into contact with healthy persons.

Long-term care facilities also need to take the proper steps to ensure they have stable staffing. Plans need to be in place in the event staff members contract the virus and need to self-isolate. If staffing is short, there could be an increased risk of infection because the necessary protocols may not have been able to be followed.

In regard to a crisis plan, nursing homes need to make sure that staff, workers, residents, and residents’ families are all on the same page when it comes to the steps that need to be taken to mitigate the spread of the virus. According to the CDC, facilities need to do the following:

  • Educate residents, healthcare personnel, and visitors about COVID-19, what precautions the facility is taking, and what those individual parties can do to protect themselves.
  • Implement source control measures, including personal protective equipment, to reduce the spread of the virus.
  • Have a plan for visitor restrictions and send letters or emails to the families reminding them of what the current policy is and how the policy will change as the virus wanes.
  • Create a plan to test residents and healthcare personnel, which includes aligning the plan with state and federal requirements.
  • Evaluate and manage healthcare personnel to ensure no one is ill and putting others at risk.
  • Provide the necessary and recommended supplies to improve infection prevention and control practices. This includes hand hygiene, respiratory hygiene and cough etiquette, and environmental cleaning and disinfection.
  • Create a plan for managing new admissions and readmissions whose infection status is unknown.

Secure Your Loved One’s Future With Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco

Because of how little we still know about the coronavirus, there’s no way to determine exactly how the virus will continue to spread and what will happen in the future in nursing homes. It’s clear, however, that more should have been done to stop the spread of the virus and facilities need to have plans in place to deal with potentially similar outbreaks in the future.

If you believe your loved one contracted COVID-19 in their long-term facility due to the facility’s negligence and poor handling of mitigation efforts, you may be able to take part in a lawsuit against the Pennsylvania Department of Health. Contact Shrager, Sachs, & Blanco today to learn more.

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