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What COVID Has Changed in Nursing Homes

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We are still in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the consensus among public health experts is that this will continue for some time.  Getting back to “normal” – whatever that was – is an elusive target, and many suggest that for the most vulnerable we are working toward a new normal – whatever that is.  So, what are the lessons learned thus far that can  help us to protect our older loved ones from COVID-19, especially those who are living in senior communities where the virus has done most of its damage?

The biggest cause of infection in these senior communities has been asymptomatic staff or residents with largely unrestricted access to the facilities.  If you have an older loved one in a “senior community” or nursing home or any other supportive residential facility, you should ask about these specific steps that every residence should have implemented by now:

  1. Testing – staff should be tested frequently, some suggesting as much as twice a week is required to stop the spread of COVID in a facility which has been likened to fire in dry grass;
  2. Telemedicine – in order to maximize medical monitoring while still maintain distancing, facilities should have the means by which any residents can receive the care they need without the added risks of transport and exposure to medical facilities;
  3. Monitoring – staff at facilities need to know all the residents well enough that they can notice when there are small changes in diet, sleeping or behavior so that health care providers can be called upon sooner;
  4. HVAC – air circulates as people talk and the air they exhale is recirculated through a facility’s heating and cooling system – there should be an ultraviolet exposure to all air with each cycle through a facility;
  5. Barriers – Plexiglas and plastic sheeting as well as routine applications of disinfectants should be used in all areas to block transmissions where staff and residents can come within close contact; and
  6. Masks – the last and first line of defense is to protect others from the air we exhale, and this is true of staff and residents in senior facilities.

If you want to see what Illinois specifically is doing to protect residents of senior facilities and nursing homes as we move with and through COVID, click here.

Charlotte Bishop is an Aging Life Care Advisor, Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  She also is the co-author of How Do I Know You? A Caregiver’s Lifesaver for Dealing with Dementia.

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