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By Melissa Powell
The coronavirus pandemic has obviously underscored the need for skilled nursing facilities to take a long, hard look at themselves. Existing systems and practices need to be reevaluated, and positive changes clearly need to be made, for the betterment of senior care and pandemic mitigation.
Classified as Tier 2 facilities by the Centers for Disease Control, SNFs found themselves very much on the front lines of the crisis. They were tasked with protecting a particularly vulnerable segment of the population.
So how should they proceed? Here are some thoughts.
Take Proactive Measures
In the wake of the 2003 SARS outbreak, nursing homes in Hong Kong underwent some significant changes. Foremost among them were mandates that an infection-control officer and at least a month’s supply of PPE be on hand in each facility.
The COVID-19 pandemic spurred nursing homes in Hong Kong to take preventive measures as well. Family visits and non-urgent travel were canceled, masks were made mandatory for staff members, and residents who tested positive for COVID-19 were isolated until they received two negative test results. Because of the proactive measures taken by these nursing homes, Hong Kong reported zero nursing home deaths as the result of the novel coronavirus for several months.
The Maryland Baptist Aged Home took a similar approach. In February, when the United States had just 15 reported cases of COVID-19, Reverend Derrick DeWitt, the facility’s director, took immediate action by canceling visits, directing deliveries to separate entrances in order to limit contact with residents, and educating staff members on social distancing. DeWitt looked to the nation’s director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, for guidance. As a result, his institution was able to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Look to Science, Not Rhetoric
One of the primary difficulties in navigating the ongoing pandemic has revolved around conflicting communication and the spread of misinformation both online and from political leadership. As the novel coronavirus is, by definition, something we have never seen before, it was to be expected that we would learn more about it over time. Unfortunately, the above issues led to widespread distrust and skepticism.
Still, it is imperative that nursing homes continue to listen to the guidance of leading medical experts, even outside of a global health crisis. The example of Reverend DeWitt demonstrates the effectiveness of a proactive, scientific, and adaptive approach. Rather than getting bogged down by the deluge of information available, nursing home directors should instead prioritize the opinions and insights of leading medical professionals, both domestic and international.
Sifting through massive amounts of information is a daunting task, especially for individuals who lack backgrounds in infectious diseases or medicine in general. While some medical experts may have differing opinions, it will undoubtedly serve nursing homes well to consult those perspectives when making decisions. The examples from Maryland and Hong Kong prove as much.
Make A Dedicated Shift Toward Long-Term Care Solutions
It is imperative that nursing homes and the government programs that sustain them prioritize long-term care solutions. They should include the aforementioned proactive measures, as well as staff training and the like.
It is true that nursing homes housed a particularly vulnerable segment of the population, and that close quarters and communal spaces make social distancing difficult, if not impossible. However, better preparedness is essential.
Doctors Without Borders, a humanitarian organization dedicated to providing medical relief where it is most needed, offered support to nursing homes in Michigan and Texas during the pandemic. While the organization typically focuses on developing nations or war zones, it saw fit to engage with institutions in the United States.
Doctors Without Borders’ medical coordinator, Karin Huster, believes that revised government regulations and active partnerships between nursing homes and local institutions like nursing schools will be critical in improving long-term senior care. In essence, a communal approach to such care would appear to be the best approach for nursing homes moving forward.
A combination of increased funding and regulations for nursing homes, as well as innovative and proactive approaches to long-term care, will be beneficial for residents. The changes needed to prevent future outbreaks and promote better long-term care will need to be the result of a tandem effort between individual facilities, the federal government, and local institutions. Learning from this pandemic could help drastically improve senior care and promote greater access to education and essential resources for the future.
Melissa Powell is COO of The Allure Group.