Experts Suggest Ways to Prevent Outbreaks in Nursing Homes

Last week the New York Times spoke with a variety of expert about how to mitigate the risk of viral outbreaks in nursing home facilities. Noting that more than 34,000 Covid-19 infections have occurred in nursing homes, and that long-term care centers “accounted for more than half of all Covid-19 deaths” in 15 states, the article suggested that Covid-19 is particularly devastating in nursing homes due do underlying structural issues. Like cruise ships and prisons, they “have large numbers of people in relatively small spaces, so it’s hard to do isolation,” one geriatrician told the Times. “They have congregant meals prepared in central kitchens, staff that have a lot of personal contacts with residents. They have activities that bring a lot of people together.”

Experts told the Times that the first priority in protecting nursing home residents from Covid-19 should be an expansion of rapid testing and tracing for facilities’ residents and staff. Another is the provision of adequate personal protective equipment. Experts suggested several other essential reforms, including:

Enhanced infection control procedures. The failure to adequately prevent and control infection is “one of the top violations in the country” at nursing homes, one expert told the Times. Although the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services announced a rule in 2016 requiring facilities to maintain an infection preventionist, the Times notes, this has usually been a part-time position, and last year the rule was relaxed such that the preventionist “no longer needed to be an employee.” One expert recommendation was that nursing homes be required to hire a full-time infection preventionist.

Redesigned nursing homes. A gerontologist and researcher told that Times that “It’s time to really focus on private rooms in nursing homes,” as opposed to small rooms shared by residents with a single bathroom. The Times notes that such shared spaces are “excellent conditions for viral transmission,” especially when healthcare workers frequently move from room to room while caring for residents. Experts suggest private rooms in small buildings, which would mitigate the risk of viral transmission and allow for easier quarantining of infected residents.

Increased pay. One expert pointed out to the Times that “a common way that the coronavirus enters nursing homes is through the employees, inadvertently.” Because nursing aides are often paid low amounts, they work several jobs, increasing the risk of infection “not only within but between facilities.” The Times suggests that “higher wages with hazard pay, health coverage and paid sick leave” would help reduce employee turnover and the spread of infection.

The attorneys at the Law Offices of Thomas L. Gallivan, PLLC work diligently to protect the rights of nursing home residents.  Please contact us to discuss in the event you have a potential case involving neglect or abuse.

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