Tackling COVID-19 in assisted living communities presents its own set of challenges compared with other long-term care settings, noted researchers offering guidance in battling the disease in an article in the May issue of JAMDA, The Journal of Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine.
Assisted living communities are not staffed or equipped to provide the type of care offered in nursing homes, said the authors of “Long-Term Care Facilities and the Coronavirus Epidemic: Practical Guidelines for a Population at Highest Risk.” They recommended that state governments have plans in place to prepare for residents with the disease and that states encourage assisted living communities “to have the staffing and infrastructure in place to meet the care delivery needs for this potentially vulnerable population.”
“Training staff and visitors on how to minimize their risk for picking up virus in the community and the facility, and transmitting it to others will remain our most important tools,” the authors stated.
The researchers offered guidance for all types of post-acute and long-term care providers battling COVID-19 in preparing for and managing healthcare for individuals with suspected COVID-19.
JAMDA is the official journal of AMDA – The Society for Post-Acute and Long-Term Care Medicine, which recently published recommendations for assisted living and continuing care retirement / life plan communities.
COVID-19 not only disproportionately results in high resident illness and deaths, but it also presents a transmission issue for healthcare workers in PALTC facilities, according to the journal article.
The authors provided five key elements for coronavirus preparedness:
- Reduce morbidity and mortality among those infected.
- Minimize transmission.
- Ensure protection of healthcare workers.
- Maintain healthcare system functioning.
- Maintain communication with residents and families.
“Absent vaccination and antiviral prophylaxis, stringent and proactive infection prevention and control measures remain the best way to reduce the risk of staff and residents becoming ill,” the authors wrote, suggesting the plans previously developed for pandemic influenza can be repurposed for COVID-19, including the respiratory outbreak preparedness checklist developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The authors stressed the importance of hand hygiene as a “fundamental measure” to prevent transmission, and recommended the implementation of additional measures — such as limiting visitors, screening staff for fever or respiratory symptoms, and daily cleaning of high-traffic areas with hospital-grade disinfectants — once the virus begins to spread in a community.
When it comes to protecting healthcare workers, the researchers pointed out that maintaining staffing levels is a key challenge. They encouraged long-term care facilities to have policies in place to identify and support sick employees, and maintain adequate supplies of personal protective equipment.
The study was supported by the center of Innovation at the Providence VAMC and the Geriatric Research Education and Clinical Center at the VA Northeast Ohio Healthcare System in Cleveland, OH. Other contributors include researchers at Brown University, Case Western Reserve University and the University of Rhode Island.