A person’s risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age and can also be impacted by underlying health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes. Residents in retirement homes and assisted living communities also face a high risk of contracting and spreading the virus due to their close living quarters.
It’s crucial for healthcare workers to follow these safety protocols as we navigate this difficult and uncertain time. In this blog post, we will review:
- COVID-19: How it spreads and what health complications it can cause
- The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on senior health
- Infection and outbreak prevention
- Moving back into place during the pandemic
- Managing mental and emotional health
- Frequently asked questions about senior care
This comprehensive guide will give you the tools and knowledge necessary for helping you excel in your role. Read on to learn how you can provide excellent care to your residents during this challenging time.
Overview of the COVID-19 Pandemic
It’s important to stay up-to-date with the latest news on the virus and its impact on the healthcare system.
It has been almost two years since the novel virus SARS-CoV-2 was identified. The virus, which can be spread from person-to-person or surface-to-person often presents cold or flu-like symptoms such as:
- Sore throat
- Stuffy nose
- Fever, chills, ache
- New loss of taste or smell
- Shortness of breath
These symptoms typically appear 2-14 days after exposure. They may vary in severity among different patients. COVID-19 can cause serious health complications such as respiratory failure, multiple organ failure, and even death in older patients. Some patients do not present any symptoms at all. But they can still spread the virus.
Staying alert for these symptoms in patients is crucial. If you start to experience any of these symptoms yourself, you need to report them to your supervisor immediately and stay home.
Chain of Infection
Implementing and following infection control measures in places like retirement homes and assisted facilities is crucial to protecting both residents and workers.
Microorganisms are typically spread through a chain of infection: Infectious Agent → Reservoir → Portal of Exit → Mode of Transmission → Portal of Entry → Susceptible Host
But we can break this chain by following proper hand hygiene and cleaning and disinfection policies. Caretakers should apply hand sanitizer before and after patient contact, before and after wearing PPE, and after touching any environmental surfaces. They should also wash their hands with soap and water whenever they are visibly soiled or after touching potentially infectious material.
PPE: Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is still being worn in nursing homes and long-term care facilities. When donning the equipment, it’s crucial to follow the order of putting on the gown, mask, face shield, and gloves in the listed order. In addition to correctly wearing PPE, staff members must continue to social distance from others whenever appropriate or possible.
COVID-19 Vaccine and Booster Shots
Several COVID-19 vaccines have been approved and authorized in the United States:
- Johnson & Johnson
The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines require two shots while Johnson & Johnson only requires one. Vaccines are highly encouraged for older adults as the risk of getting extremely sick from COVID-19 increases with age.
Recently, the CDC has recommended booster shots for people who have underlying medical conditions, live in long-term care settings, and are 65 years or older. This means that most of your residents and co-workers will want to sign up for a booster shot, whether they got Pfizer, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson.
Nursing homes were among the first facilities to be prioritized for the shot. As they continue to vaccinate residents and staff members, they must monitor and update their vaccination rates through the CDC’s National Healthcare Safety Network.
Any residents and their families are entitled to ask about the current rate of a vaccination home. They can also view vaccination rates on the CMS COVID-19 Nursing Home Data site.
Senior Wellness During the Pandemic
Here’s everything you need to know when taking care of residents in assisted living facilities.
The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically impacted the country’s healthcare system. During periods of rising cases and hospitalizations, some hospitals have had to delay elective procedures and manage full ICUs. Some experts believe that its negative impact on the system will last for decades.
To help reduce and prevent further strains on the healthcare system, workers like you can do their part in following safety protocols in the workplace.
How the Pandemic Has Affected Seniors’ Mental Health
Social distancing measures and isolation policies are crucial for reducing the spread of the coronavirus, especially in senior care communities.
That said, these measures have drastically impacted the mental health of many residents. Humans are social creatures who rely on relationships with others to lead happy lives. But it’s common for adults to grow increasingly isolated as they age. The pandemic has further exacerbated this phenomenon. As a result, depression, anxiety, and general loneliness are on the rise among residents. These mental health issues can lead to physical problems like high blood pressure or heart disease.
Nursing home employees are finding ways to keep residents safe while preventing complete social isolation and loneliness. Video chatting is a fun and easy way for residents to stay connected with their loved ones. It also allows them to schedule telehealth visits and mental health check-ups with their physicians.
Infection Prevention and Control for Seniors
Because of their high risk for contracting serious cases of COVID-19, seniors and their caretakers need to remain extra vigilant. Residents in nursing homes are at an especially high risk of getting COVID-19. In addition to getting the vaccine and any booster shots, seniors should still wear a mask inside, wash their hands often, and practice social distancing.
Maintaining a High Quality of Life for Residents
In addition to implementing and enforcing various infection prevention measures in their respective residential facilities, healthcare workers should also emotionally support residents to ensure they maintain a high quality of life. There are numerous ways workers can support residents, such as:
- Helping residents maintain up-to-date lists of their medical conditions and prescriptions
- Educating residents on COVID-19 symptoms
- Assisting residents in ordering prescription refills through the mail
- Helping residents stay connected to their loved ones through video or phone calls
- Promoting healthy eating and exercise habits
- Organizing online activities or teleseminars for residents to attend
The pandemic has been a challenging time for people of all ages around the country. Providing mental and emotional assistance to residents as the country continues to enforce social distancing guidelines is crucial for their well-being.
Taking Care of Yourself
Ensuring the mental well-being of yourself and your co-workers during this time is also important. Taking care of yourself will help you maintain your mental and physical health, which will allow you to be a great worker and caretaker to your residents.
Moving Back in Place During COVID
Some residents moved back in place in the midst of the pandemic. There are various pros and cons to aging in place. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities have accounted for 42% of COVID-19 related deaths as of September 2020. Aging in place at home could be a safer alternative for elderly citizens. It is also a great option for seniors who want to maintain their independence and follow a schedule that accommodates their personal needs.
But residents who live in-place may need personal nurses or aides to assist them on a regular basis. If you’re a home aid, you should regularly screen both yourself and your patient for COVID-19. Family members may also stop in to help the resident. Mental health check-ups will also be essential, as the resident may be living alone.
The patient may also need to remodel parts of their homes or add installations to help make the area more comfortable for them to age in place. For instance, converting a traditional tub into a walk-in tub or low-threshold tub can drastically reduce the risk of falling. Adding grab bars and stair lifts can also make it easier for the resident to move around.
Have more questions? Review these frequently asked questions about working in assisted living during the pandemic.
Working in a nursing home or long-term care facility can be extremely nerve wracking during such a difficult time. Still have questions about taking care of elderly patients in the pandemic? Check out our FAQ section below!
Do nursing homes have to report COVID-19 cases and/or vaccination rates?
To help protect residents, nursing homes must report vaccinations in residents and staff members. They also need to disclose the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths to the CDC.
Is there currently a shortage of staff members in nursing homes?
According to a new industry survey, only 1% of nursing homes and 4% of assisted living facilities are fully staffed. 89% of nursing homes and 82% of assisted living facilities reported that they were experiencing staff shortages. Some nursing homes are turning away new residents because they do not have the bandwidth to support them.
Is the COVID-19 vaccine required for healthcare workers?
Yes. Nursing home workers are required to get vaccinated. As of September 2021, staff members at all Medicare and Medicaid-certified facilities are required to get vaccinated. This includes hospitals, home health agencies, dialysis facilities, and more healthcare workplaces.
How often should we screen residents for COVID-19?
Nursing homes and long-term care facilities should screen residents for symptoms at least once a day. New residents should also be tested and screened for symptoms. If a resident has had contact with a COVID-19 patient within the last 14 days, they should be monitored as well.
Are visitors allowed to stop by for residents?
Most facilities are allowing outdoor visits. Indoor visits are allowed in some states. However, this may depend on the visitor’s vaccination status and the local area’s current transmission rate.
If family members are able to arrange a visit, they might have to schedule one in advance for a limited amount of time. When they arrive, they should be advised on masking and social distancing measures.
How can we manage communal spaces and group activities for residents?
Indoor communal spaces like lounges and dining halls may need to be temporarily closed. Facilities may also limit the number of people allowed in communal areas or allocate specific time slots for different individuals. The area should be cleaned and disinfected between use. Physical barriers like plastic screens may also be added. Otherwise, try to plan activities outdoors whenever possible.
As you continue to manage and look after patients during the pandemic, it’s important to remember to look after yourself. Don’t forget to get enough rest, nourish yourself with healthy food, and stay connected with your loved ones.
To learn more about providing high-quality care for your residents, check out Mariposa Training’s extensive catalog of courses now. They cover everything from infection control measures in long-term care facilities to preventing wandering among residents with dementia. Nurses, social workers, physicians, and other healthcare workers can greatly benefit from this low-cost educational offering.