The coronavirus outbreak has left everyone with more questions than answers recently. No one knows this more than people with family in assisted living facilities, who may feel powerless to help their loved ones they’re not even allowed to see.
Assisted living facilities are doing their best to be transparent and be a resource you can trust while preparing and preventing the spread of the coronavirus in their communities.
All decisions and guidelines that are followed are based on current information provided by the Center for Disease Control CDC. Strategies are then created to prevent the introduction or spread of the coronavirus in facilities.
Coronavirus Risk Higher for Older People
The elderly and people with existing health issues are more severely affected by influenza and other viral diseases. The Coronavirus is no different, hitting these groups the hardest.
Our bodies’ immune system gradual declines as we get older. On top of that, seniors are more likely to have an existing health problem like heart disease, lung disease, or diabetes. All of these factors contribute to why aging adults are the most susceptible during the pandemic.
How Assisted Living Facilities Are Preparing for Coronavirus
Many assisted living facilities have existing plans that they follow to prevent the flu and other respiratory viruses from spreading. Thankfully these community strategies follow many CDC general guidelines for preventing COVID-19 from spreading.
The medical community is monitoring new developments about the coronavirus and how it affects us. The CDC is evaluating long-term care policies daily and making recommendations based on new information.
The following protocols are what is recommended by the CDC and the American Health Care Association (AHCA) to prevent or reduce the spread of coronavirus in assisted living communities.
Educate Facility Staff
The first step any assisted living community needs to take is training and educating their staff. What they need to do, what are the signs a resident may be infected, and how to limit unnecessary visitors are some of the steps that need to be taken.
Assisted living employees and staff should be trained to follow standard guidelines including:
- Door handles, handrails, faucets, and other areas that are frequently touched should be regularly disinfected.
- Increase the amount of times high-traffic areas are cleaned, especially lobbies, dining rooms, and other common areas.
- Stressing the importance of washing hands regularly and other infection control training.
- How to properly use new protective equipment and supplies for staff.
Take Stock of Equipment and Supplies
Does the assisted living community have an adequate supply of protective gowns, masks, face shields, and cleaning supplies to last the foreseeable future? If there is only enough for a couple of weeks getting more supplies is a top priority.
Only Essential Personnel Allowed in Facility
Social distancing has become a phrase everyone hears a lot of recently. Limiting the number of visitors to an assisted living facility greatly reduces the chances senior residents are exposed to an outside carrier of the virus. While these measures can be very hard on family members and loved ones of residents who cannot visit, it’s very important that these guidelines are followed.
Assisted living communities consider the following essential visitors.
- Family members of residents facing impending end of life.
- Private aides, companions of residents
- Vendors who provide essential goods and services. Food, prescription drugs, outside healthcare workers, and physical therapists are a few examples.
All essential visitors will have to follow safety outlines during each visit. This includes wearing masks, checking temperature upon arrival, and regularly washing hands.
Social Distancing – Reduce or Cancel Group Activities & Dining
There’s that word again, social distancing. While daily activities, events, and group dining are important for residents’ mental health, it’s even more important right now to limit interaction with other people.
Residents are encouraged to stay in their rooms and apartments to maintain social distancing.
Large groups assembling in dining rooms is too much of a challenge for preventing coronavirus infections in assisted living communities. Meals should be delivered to resident rooms by facility dining services.
Many communities are doing their best to create window time visits with family members and facetime visit chats wtih smartphones, computers, and tablets.
Assisted living communities should screen employees and staff with the following five questions before being allowed to return to work.
- Have you been diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Have you been exposed to anyone diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Do you have any reason to believe that you, or someone in your household has been in close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19?
- Do you currently have any of the following symptoms: Fever, cough, sore throat, or have shortness of breath?
- Have you or anyone in your household traveled abroad in the last 14 days?
If anyone answers yes to one or more of these questions they should be advised to quarantine for 14 days before returning to work. While this isn’t perfect, since it depends on someone answering all questions truthfully, but it is one more step to keeping residents safe.
Right now many hospitals are nearly at capacity as a result of COVID-19 infections. Any resident returning to an assisted living community from a hospital should be required to enter quarantine for 14 days unless they have been cleared of coronavirus by a doctor.
Coronavirus Prevention for Assisted Living Residents
While assisted living management and staff are doing everything they can, residents can do their part to prevent infection, keep themselves safe, and stay in touch with loved ones.
- Ask facility management what they’re doing to make sure you can communicate with loved ones. This can be through phone calls, video chats, or social media.
- Continue exercising everyday measures such as covering sneezing and coughing, washing hands and using hand sanitizer.
- Don’t be afraid to tell other individuals, including facility staff to avoid unnecessary touching like shaking hands or hugging. It’s okay remind people, you’re not being rude.
- If you develop a fever, sore throat, sneezing or coughing tell a member of the facility’s staff as soon as possible.
The guidelines listed here are recommended by the CDC and other professional associations. These protocols are best practices and are exercised at the discretion of individual communities unless ordered by state or local governments.