The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has affected millions of lives. In the United States, hundreds of thousands of people have lost their lives, and millions have been infected by the virus. Certain populations are at greater risk of developing COVID-19, and healthcare operations like assisted living facilities (ALFs) and nursing homes have been hit especially hard. Infection prevention is a key component of risk management in these facilities, working together with assisted living facility insurance and many other factors to keep the facility, its staff, and its residents protected. Infection control procedures must be implemented in all aspects of operation, both now and well into the future. Here’s how ALFs can protect their residents with healthcare best practices.
COVID-19: The Toll on Long-Term Care Facilities
Elderly individuals are considered at higher risk of developing serious or fatal complications from the novel coronavirus. In an article published in the New York Times, reporters created a database pulling together statistics from state health departments, particularly the cases and deaths associated with COVID-19 in long-term care facilities like ALFs, nursing homes, and skilled care centers. The statistics are chilling:
- 35% of all COVID-19 deaths in the United States are linked to long-term care.
- In 14 states, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Colorado, Minnesota, and Delaware, residents and workers in long-term care facilities account for more than half of all COVID-19 deaths in those states.
Certain facilities across the country have each experienced hundreds of coronavirus infections, with dozens of deaths resulting from those infections. Residents of ALFs are considered at high risk of infection for several reasons, including:
- Comorbidities or other health conditions that increase the chance of fatal complications.
- Substandard infection control and disinfection/sterilization protocols.
- Frequent visits to facilities from outsiders, including caregivers, family members, and service personnel.
- Close living conditions.
As lockdowns and stay-at-home orders ease, the number of infections is predicted to rise, affecting at-risk populations across the country. It is imperative that ALF and long-term care facility managers implement effective infection prevention strategies to reduce the impacts felt by the coronavirus pandemic.
Infection Prevention: Best Practices
Public health officials have raced to develop strategies designed to control and prevent the spread of infections, including those associated with COVID-19. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have published guidelines for healthcare facilities. One, entitled “Considerations for Preventing Spread of COVID-19 in Assisted Living Facilities”, is especially relevant to the operations of long-term healthcare centers. Among the best practices presented in the publication are:
- Identifying a point of contact at local health departments to facilitate reporting of known or suspected coronavirus infections.
- Implementing contact tracing strategies to identify those potentially exposed to infections.
- Providing infection prevention education to facility residents and their family members or visitors.
- Training caregivers on appropriate infection control practices.
- Implementing personnel and visitor restrictions to limit the potential for outsiders to bring the virus into facilities.
- Establishing regular temperature and symptom monitoring practices for residents, staff members, and any visitors.
- Requiring all personnel and visitors to wear protective face coverings to help reduce the spread of infectious materials.
Infection control in ALFs has spurred several prominent changes in the way these facilities operate on a daily basis. Caregivers and managers have implemented social distancing practices, particularly in common areas, to help maintain physical separation between residents. Many facilities have also stepped up their cleaning and disinfection protocols, concentrating on common areas and high-touch items to minimize the spread of infection. Infection prevention is a multi-step process, and implementing all of the best practices recommended by the CDC can be a challenge for many facilities. The extra effort, however, has been shown to reduce the devastating effects of COVID-19 on at-risk populations in ALFs and nursing homes.
ALF managers will also want to ensure their insurance policies are up to date and that the policies reflect the risk exposures their facilities face. Insurance is important on its own, but should be considered as an integral part of an overall risk management strategy designed to protect facility assets, staff members, and residents alike.
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.