As we continue to see a decline in COVID-19 cases in many cities nationwide, we have to begin considering how we can open the doors of nursing homes and assisted living communities safely. This news is undoubtedly music to your residents’ ears. Think about it—lockdown began March 13. Your residents have been unable to be in the same room with their family and friends for 3 months. For many, this has been absolutely devastating. Some wait anxiously each day for the news that they can see their families again—while some have begun to give up hope. While it is tempting to believe business will be able to return to usual soon, it’s important to remember that things may never quite be the same. Safety precautions must be taken, and the opening process must be slow to ensure that the residents aren’t at risk.
What exactly does reopening look like? You may feel there’s a lot of re-thinking to do on your part, so we’ve compiled a few tips from trusted sources, specifically the CDC, to make sure you are considering all the right things before you open up your doors to the public.
Create a Community Checklist
The first thing to think about is the status of your local city and community. If COVID-19 cases are not declining in your area, consider very carefully whether it’s the right time to reopen. Some state officials will wait until all communities are ready to re-open before giving the okay, then all will progress through opening phases together. Some will allow communities to open by region depending on the safety of each particular area (1). Stay informed about the decisions of your state officials, and consider the status of your local area, then carefully weigh what is best for your individual facility.
Also, don’t forget about your staff. Do you have an adequate number of staff members actively on the clock during this time to take on the responsibilities necessary for regular sanitation practices and other additional needs (1)? If not, consider building your team back up before opening your doors. Make sure you have the appropriate PPE for all staff members, as well. Protective equipment is not only important for the safety of your staff, but specifically for your residents, as your staff will be traveling between residents all day.
Do you have adequate access to testing? According to the CDC, “Facilities should have a testing plan that considers all residents and staff able to be tested at least once weekly, and testing protocols be taken daily or before each shift”(2). This also includes vendors, volunteers, visitors, and anyone else in direct contact with your residents. Create a clear set of requirements for resident family members to adhere to before they come to visit, including testing, social distancing, masks, and whatever else your community considers important. One visitor with overlooked symptoms could endanger the whole community. Be very careful and meticulous when developing your family member protection plan.
Another important thing to consider is your local hospital capacity (1). As healthcare providers, its important to consider the worst case scenario. What if COVID-19 did spread in your facility? Do you have the necessary care nearby to handle a big problem like that? Can your residents trust you to give them the appropriate care if the worst happened?
Prepare your staff
The CDC also says that “Facilities should assign at least one individual with training in IPC to provide on-site management of their COVID-19 prevention and response activities”(2). If your community does not currently have an individual with training in IPC, don’t worry. You can have at least one staff member take an online certification course here.
Beyond training at least one staff member in ICP, it’s a good idea to have all of your members take general front-line staff training courses to make sure everyone is refreshed on important safety precautions. You can find training modules recommended by the CDC here (2).
One more thing you can do to ensure the safety of your residents is to put flexible sick-leave policies in place for your staff. If your staff members don’t feel they are using up valuable time-off by taking a sick-day, you can be more confident that they will stay home when they aren’t feeling up-to-par. Your most important responsibility is the health and well-being of your residents. Remind your staff how critical this is, and encourage them to stay home if they experience symptoms of any kind.
Lastly, just as our country has been opening each state in phases, the CDC recommends that we treat the reopening of assisted living and nursing homes the same way. There has been a determined phase structure for facilities to follow. For a description of each phase, click here (1).