Note: Here at Austin RNC, we have been COVID-19-free for several months and are excited that our residents are now able to have visitors. However, there are still strict protocols and rules in place to protect our residents and staff from the virus.
It has been a long, drawn-out year bombarded with COVID news, reports, and statistics. This pandemic has changed life for many of us, whether in minor or major ways. Nursing homes in particular, have taken significant hits and have been forced to close off visits from outside family members and friends.
Why are nursing homes at higher risks for the spread and damage caused by COVID? Why have they been labeled “breeding grounds” for the virus? And most importantly, what are these facilities doing to prevent the virus from making its way into the home without completely isolating the patients?
The Risk Factors:
Typical or Standard Close Contact and Indoor Living – Most facilities are set up where residents come in contact with each other often, whether it’s at the dining hall or recreational areas. This makes social distancing more difficult.
Age – COVID has been shown to have a more debilitating effect on those of advanced age. Most residents in nursing homes are elderly and therefore, at higher risk of developing harmful symptoms related to the virus.
Illnesses – A high percentage of residents in a care facility will have one or more illnesses including heart disease and diabetes. These are factors that have also been shown to increase the virus’s intensity.
Forgetting to Follow Protocol – Some patients or residents might forget to wear a mask or wash their hands. Dementia is common among nursing home residents and lacking to follow protocol might result from forgetfulness, rather than defiance.
Families Following Protocol – People across the globe have tended to develop their own opinions about the COVID pandemic. Because some have views that clash with safety protocols, they refuse or neglect to follow accordingly. This has caused some issues with spreading the virus to loved ones housed in long-term care facilities.
Shared Accommodations – Dining halls, recreational rooms, bedrooms, and even some bathing areas are often shared by multiple residents. Facilities do the best they can with tight budgets and limited space.
Close Contact Care – Lots of residents are bound to require care that forces up-close contact with staff – bathing, feeding, etc. Because this is typically unavoidable for some patients, it can increase the spread of the virus.
How are Nursing Homes Handling These Challenges?
Weekly Staff Testing – most facilities require frequent testing of staff members to ensure the virus never enters the nursing home.
Staying Stocked on PPEs (personal protective equipment) and Cleaning Supplies – wiping away germs and washing hands is the best way to keep a facility virus-free.
Properly Staffed – understaffed facilities face the issue of workers coming into work regardless of present symptoms. Having enough staff members on hand prevents this from happening and allows workers ample time to recover before returning to work.
Outdoor Activities – Weather permitting, moving activities outside is a great way to social distance while allowing residents to experience social contact.
Activities that Allow Distancing – All social activities don’t have to be put on hold. There are plenty of games and other recreational ventures that can be done that still allow residents to sit six feet apart.
Virtual Visits – Video chatting, emailing, and phone calls aren’t the same as seeing a loved one in person, but they do make a major difference in keeping residents happy. A simple daily or weekly phone call can prevent loneliness and feelings of isolation.
Nursing homes have not had it easy during this pandemic, but they are learning every day and continuing to provide the best possible care for their residents.
Robert H. Shmerling, MD. “The Plight of Nursing Home Residents in a Pandemic.” Harvard Health Blog, 23 June 2020, www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-plight-of-nursing-home-residents-in-a-pandemic-2020061920214.
About the Author
Carly Commiato is currently teaching junior high at a small town district. She has a degree in Exercise Physiology and an ACSM Exercise Physiologist (EP-C) Certification. In her spare time, Carly enjoys babysitting for her friends and spending time outdoors.