Since it first emerged in late 2019, the novel coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2 has spread across the globe. In the United States, the respiratory illness caused by the virus, called COVID-19, has infected hundreds of thousands of people and has led to thousands of deaths. Certain populations are at greater risk of developing complications from the virus, including residents of assisted living facilities (ALFs), nursing homes, and other long-term healthcare operations. Assisted living liability insurance is designed to protect against numerous risks faced by this healthcare sector, but facility owners and managers must understand that certain factors of care availability and delivery have been compromised by the pandemic. It is vital to bridge the coverage gap during the outbreak, protecting residents and staff members alike from life-threatening COVID-19 illness.
COVID-19 Care Coverage Risks in Assisted Living Facilities
Nursing homes and ALFs have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Seniors are an at-risk population, often struggling with other health conditions that can make a coronavirus infection life-threatening or even fatal. Infection control has long been a part of the long-term care model; infections can spread rapidly within these facilities, and managers and caregivers must take extra precautions to avoid the spread of communicable pathogens.
One of the first COVID-19 outbreaks in the United States occurred at a nursing home in Washington State. At least 35 residents died in that outbreak. Although figures are hard to come by, a number of health specialists investigating long-term care facilities suggest that approximately 4800 seniors in such facilities have died as a result of the coronavirus, but indicate that the number of deaths is probably much higher.
Lapses in Healthcare Coverage in the Wake of the COVID-19 Pandemic
Throughout the United States, an army of workers is responsible for providing care and support to the nation’s seniors, of which an estimated 1.5 million reside in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Workers include both professional and paraprofessional caregivers, cooks, maintenance and cleaning staff, and activities coordinators, only to name a few of the many types of people who provide some level of support for seniors.
As the coronavirus has spread, facility managers have had to make some very hard decisions. Some of these decisions hinge on support staff, now considered “non-essential” by some facilities. Non-essential personnel have been asked to stay home, or may have been laid off in the wake of the pandemic, forcing ALFs to do without an important aspect of the care model.
Caregivers like RNs and LPNs are also falling ill with COVID-19, resulting in staffing shortages in some facilities. Healthcare workers are faced with shortages in personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, and face shields, resulting in exposure to infectious pathogens. As staff members and residents fall ill with the coronavirus, it is clear that assisted living liability insurance and other risk management strategies are falling short.
Covering the Healthcare Gaps
As non-essential personnel are laid off or asked to stay at home, and as caregivers fall ill from the coronavirus, these lapses in coverage are having profound effects. In some facilities, caregivers are performing double-duty, filling in for support staff with bathing and dressing assistance for residents. In other facilities where support staff are still allowed to come to work, there is mounting pressure to work even if those people are not feeling well, potentially putting facility residents at risk. Caregivers and support staff alike are in fear of losing their jobs if they become sick, and this has forced them to take risks that run afoul of assisted living liability policies.
To better manage coverage gaps, long-term care facilities need to be prepared to “do more with less”. Protecting the health and safety of both residents and staff is paramount; reducing certain support services may be a painful, yet necessary, step facility managers need to take. These service reductions may include social gatherings, excursions outside the facility, or entertainment visits by outsiders.
Managers can also help to reduce the spread of infection by eliminating visitation to facilities – including visits by family members — as well as performing enhanced cleaning and sterilization of facilities and equipment, and by conducting regular wellness checks on staff members. With these additional steps, assisted living liability can be better managed, protecting the lives and health of seniors who depend on the services of long-term healthcare facilities.
About Caitlin Morgan
Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 877.226.1027.