Millions of elderly and incapacitated individuals live and receive medical care and assistance with daily living requirements in long-term care facilities.  The primary aim of nursing homes is to keep residents safe and healthy.  To do so, important precautions need to be taken, not only by staff members but by friends and family who visit their loved ones in nursing home facilities.  Infectious diseases can easily spread through nursing homes if proper care is not taken by all involved.  Compromised immune systems are much more common among people who live in long-term care facilities.  This elevates residents’ risk for disease.

The Covid-19 pandemic, which has affected all of us, has been devastating to nursing homes — especially if they were unable to get ahead of this challenge. A nursing home outside of Seattle was the site of the first known case of COVID-19 in the U.S.  This is a unique and complex virus.  It is irrefutable that nursing home residents and staff have taken the brunt of the attack.

The reasons are simple — yet complex. In many nursing homes, residents share rooms, and common areas result in close interaction.  Making residents vulnerable to infections which are transmitted from person to person, according to the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. The typical open-door policy at many facilities, and 24/7/365 staffing, can make it easy for diseases to find their way in.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) as instituted guidelines to help reduce the risk for disease transmission. IF visitors are allowed, they should not come into the facility if they have symptoms of respiratory infection symptoms or other illnesses that are easily transmissible.  Employees should stay home if they are sick. Proper infection prevention and control techniques should always be strictly followed. These include cleaning hands before and after touching another resident. Cleaning and disinfecting environmental surfaces, removing soiled items, and wearing personal protective equipment.

Residents, workers, and visitors should practice proper etiquette by coughing and sneezing into the crooks of their elbows, rather than into their hands. The CDC says alcohol-based hand rub should be available in every resident’s room. Residents who have had exposure to family members who have not been tested, or who show symptoms can be restricted to their rooms for the recommended quarantine period. If residents need to be moved from the facility for testing or other reasons, they should wear proper protective equipment, especially facemasks.  They may also be subject to a quarantine period upon return — both for their own safety and the safety of other residents and staff.

Healthcare personnel who may work other jobs, or in other facilities, should exercise extreme caution after caring for an individual with an infectious disease.  Guests should wear gowns when visiting someone who has a virus or type of bacteria that can be transmitted through direct contact.

The data clearly shows that infectious diseases are problematic in nursing home settings because those residents are the most vulnerable.  Facilities who have best managed Covid-19, and other similar situations, have done so by following strict procedures – always with the resident/patient’s best interest in mind.