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Nursing Homes Still a Risk for COVID-19?

It has been a tough pandemic for everyone, but it has been especially difficult for residents of nursing homes across the country. Some were relatively safe from the COVID rampage while others were ravaged. Even those that were clinically safe maintained their safety with an elevated isolation that protected their residents from the virus, but not from quarantine-induced depression and isolation from family “on the outside” in nursing homes. Then came the vaccines and everyone is safe once again, right?

Not so much. According to data from the Nursing Home COVID-19 Dashboard, less than one-quarter of nursing homes meet the industry standard of 75%+ of staff fully vaccinated. In fact, the national data show that the average is only just above half of nursing homes reaching goal (56%) by June 20. Thee same data show 78% of residents in nursing homes full vaccinated. The state of Illinois is only marginally better on both fronts, 56.4% and 78.9%, respectively.

During the period leading up to June 20, Illinois shows one in seven nursing homes with shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) and one in five having staffing shortages of nurses and/or aides. That said, the rates of new infections among both residents and staff have decreased to two percent from highs of fiver percent and nine percent, respectively.

We continue to see some vaccine hesitancy even following the final and formal approval of the Pfizer COVID vaccine and a push in some circles for booster vaccinations. We also see anti-vaxxers across the country as well. And nursing homes are hit with some of the same issues as other sectors who have workers like aides hesitant to put themselves in harm’s way for hourly wages they find less acceptable. You may have seen the same in hotels, restaurants and travel venues. So, what can you do?
• Go to the Dashboard page to be informed of the steps nursing homes are expected to take to protect residents, and at the next visit pay attention.
• Ask nursing home management about their protocols for regular testing, especially for unvaccinated staff, and compare to the guidelines you will find on the Dashboard.
• If your loved one does not now have a single occupancy room, lobby for that accommodation now.
• If you find discrepancies or are in doubt about the guidelines and your loved one’s facility, contact your Illinois AARP representative.

Charlotte Bishop is a Caregiver Coach, an Aging Life Care Advisor, a 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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