By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant
Are nursing homes and other senior living facilities really a safe place for seniors to live?
According to a Sept. 18 article by Judith Graham published by Kaiser Health, a lot of older adults are rethinking their final planning and considering other options than going to a senior living facility should they need help with activities of daily living.
The article cited a survey in August by the National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care that 74% of senior housing executives said families have expressed concern about safety amid rising COVID-19 cases.
To assuage these concerns and to keep residents safe, the industry in general is responding with increased communication about safety, according to Kimberly Townsend, president and CEO at Loretto.
“What we’re finding to be highly effective according to industry surveys, the three things families and individuals want are to understand the cleaning and disinfectant protocols and safety and control measures; to see that the facility has access to rapid testing so in the event that there is an individual who tests positive for COVID-19, there’s an ability to have everyone tested with rapid results; and to access either a robust telemedicine platform or robust on-site care.”
Ramping up measures to quarantine ill residents, limit the contact of all residents with potential sources of infection, using personal protection equipment more frequently, and testing staff for COVID-19 weekly have helped curtail the virus’ spread, according to Townsend.
For those with the means to do so, choosing home health may help reduce the population of people living in nursing homes to a safer capacity. Some estimate that a rate of 80% capacity helps prevent the spread of COVID-19. But it is difficult to tell what level of care one will need in 10 or 20 years.
“There will always continue to be a robust demand for those services that really cannot be accommodated in the home,” Townsend said. “Memory care and people with very, very complex medical conditions are likewise very challenging. I think there will certainly be more motivation to do so with Loretto’s PACE program and patient monitoring. We want to offer as many options as possible to help people stay in their homes as long as they wish and as long as it’s safe to do so.”
Loretto offers home-based and community-based options for care. According to AARP, 52% of people turning 65 years old will need long-term care at some point
All the changes taking place have caused caregivers to reevaluate how they operate. Michael Connor, relationship development coordinator at The Centers at St. Camillus, said that strictly following and enforcing guidelines for masks, personal protective equipment, contact, and sanitation.
Like other healthcare organizations, St. Camillus had emergency processes and protocols in place; however, no one alive today has experienced a pandemic at their workplace. Although frail elders are more vulnerable to COVID than most younger people, the nursing home industry has been working to mitigate this tendency.
“Throughout the pandemic, the St. Camillus administrative and nursing staff has also remained calm and level-headed, stayed informed and communicated crucial information as clearly and swiftly as possible to our residents and their families, our staff and the community,” Connor said. “Operational procedures were revised, ongoing education provided, and compliance monitored.”
The pandemic has sharpened the facility’s ability to pivot as changes occur in regulations and protocols, sometimes daily.
“Some of the additional measures we have taken are introducing telehealth physician services, increasing the availability of private rooms, ensuring a 60-day supply of personal protective equipment and establishing dedicated areas to support cohorting of residents if needed,” Connor said.
In addition, St. Camillus tests employees weekly and receives the results in 48 hours so that the organization can swiftly curb the spread of the virus.