The global coronavirus pandemic has affected industries of every type and in every sector. Healthcare operations have been some of the hardest-hit, including nursing homes and skilled care facilities. COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has impacted the health and safety of countless nursing home residents and their caregivers. As a means of protecting staff and residents, implementing risk management strategies is imperative for the future of nursing homes. Facility owners must gain an understanding of the risks associated with COVID-19 and the components of a risk management plan, including the role of nursing home insurance.
Grim Statistics: Nursing Homes Affected by COVID-19
In an investigative article published by the New York Times in June, 2020, reporters indicated that the coronavirus has infected nearly 300,000 people at approximately 12,000 long-term care facilities in the United States. These figures include both residents and staff members. According to the database compiled by the Times, which was created using data from local, state, and federal authorities, a majority of deaths in certain states are directly linked to nursing homes. The statistics are grim. At the time of the article’s publication:
- About 54,000 residents and workers of nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the U.S. have died from complications of COVID-19.
- This alarming death figure represents about 43% of all U.S. deaths related to COVID-19.
- 11%, or just over 282,000, of all reported coronavirus infections in the United States are linked to long-term care facilities like nursing homes.
Elderly residents of nursing homes are considered high-risk of contracting infections for several reasons, including their overall health status as well as the living conditions of many nursing homes. Close quarters, combined with frequent outside visitors, have hastened the spread of the coronavirus within nursing homes across the country.
Establishing Infection Control Programs in Nursing Homes
Understanding the sources of infections and how to prevent the spread of disease pathogens is an important component of facility risk management. In the wake of highly-publicized infections, including COVID-19, nursing homes are implementing Infection Prevention and Control (IPC) programs in their facilities. These programs are being spearheaded by personnel with training in infection control, and include practices like:
- Developing action plans, policies, and procedures.
- Providing ongoing monitoring as well as conducting infection surveillance within facilities.
- Providing ongoing training for caregivers and facility staff according to guidelines published by regulatory agencies like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
This push for IPC programs is a departure for the long-term healthcare industry, which has often relied on basic infection control training for caregivers and support personnel. Now, with dedicated IPC managers in numerous facilities across the country, nursing homes are becoming better equipped to respond to communicable diseases like COVID-19.
The Future of Nursing Homes: Reimagining the Long-Term Care Industry
Infection control practices in care facilities are only one part of sweeping changes the nursing home industry may experience. With nearly 16,000 facilities in the U.S. and millions of seniors who depend on these homes for care, the impetus to protect them is there.
One of the changes being proposed is to change the way the federal government regulates Medicaid spending, allowing more seniors to seek other care models, and thus reducing crowding in nursing homes. States would have the flexibility to support alternative healthcare options for seniors, including home care or care in smaller, less crowded facilities. Financial changes on the government level may also improve affordability for insurance, including nursing home insurance and healthcare coverage.
Regulatory oversight must change as well. Lax enforcement of health standards has led to significant risks for nursing home residents and their caregivers. In the wake of COVID-19, infrequent regulatory inspections and non-compliance with established infection control guidelines have led to wildfire-like spreads of infectious pathogens, costing thousands of lives and millions of dollars in expenses, penalties, and legal claims.
Staffing has long been an issue in nursing homes. Underpaid workers, combined with low staffing levels, contribute to the risks seniors face. By ensuring adequate staffing levels and pay rates for caregivers, nursing homes can better protect their residents.
Finally, the future of nursing homes may look very different from the current model. To prevent the spread of infection, shared equipment and facilities may become a thing of the past. More individualized care, reduced contact with others in group settings, and a change in the way caregivers move from place to place within the facility are likely to shape the future of care facilities. Improved infection control practices, both in healthcare and in support services like meals, bathing, and social interaction, will help to curtail the spread of dangerous and potentially deadly infections like COVID-19. The future of nursing homes is not yet clear, but regulators and industry watchdogs continue to implement better policies designed to reduce the risks to America’s senior population.
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.