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How Illinois Nursing Homes Can Do More to Prevent the Spread of COVID-19

Published on Apr 3, 2020 at 7:26 pm in Health & Safety.

As the novel coronavirus spreads across Illinois, the United States, and the rest of the world, it’s imperative we do what we can to protect those that are most at risk for severe complications from the virus. Elderly people and those with conditions that compromise their immune systems currently fall into the most at-risk category. Because of that, it’s important for Illinois nursing homes to take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

When nursing homes fail to properly contain a virus, they can be cited for problems with infection control. Across the country, 9,700 of the 15,000 nursing homes were cited by the federal government at least once during the last two inspection cycles. This means that approximately 63 percent of nursing homes in the United States were cited at least once between February 2016 to February 2020 for failing to handle infections properly.

Currently, authorities in Illinois are struggling to slow the spread of the virus among vulnerable populations like residents in long-term care facilities. If you have a family member in an Illinois nursing home, it’s important to understand the impact the virus is having on facilities, as well as what infection prevention strategies nursing homes can implement to protect residents.

COVID-19 in Illinois Nursing Homes

According to a data analysis from Kaiser Health News, 76 percent of nursing homes in Illinois have been cited in recent years for problems with infection control—even those facilities with five star ratings from the federal government. A portion of those nursing homes have received more than one citation.

The citations are classified in one of four levels of severity by federal inspectors. The least severe violations are classified as “potential for minimum harm.” Most violations fall into the category of “potential harm.” For violations that are more severe, the categories include “actual harm” and “immediate jeopardy.”

Many of the citations revolved around basic sanitary practices, including workers failing to wash their hands between patients and neglecting to wear masks, gloves, and gowns when dealing with contagious patients. As a result, many residents began developing infections and other conditions like bedsores.

When the above sanitary practices aren’t followed during a pandemic like COVID-19, residents’ lives are put at risk. The Kaiser study noted that across the country, 3.8 million infections occur in nursing homes each year, resulting in the deaths of 388,000 residents. That number is likely to be even higher once the novel coronavirus makes its way through facilities if proper action isn’t taken.

Illinois is not the only state to have problems with the novel coronavirus in nursing homes. According to The Seattle Times, in Kirkland, Washington, 81 of the 120 residents of Life Care Center tested positive for COVID-19 as of March 31. As a result, 34 people have died—in addition to a person who visited the facility and returned home. Problems at this facility regarding the spread of the virus have to do with staff members neglecting to inform state health officials of the developing problem when it first started. To ensure this does not happen in Illinois, nursing home employees need to make sure they are accurately documenting symptoms and filing official reports when residents test positive for COVID-19.

Infection Prevention Strategies

Nursing home facilities must take steps to prevent the coronavirus from coming into facilities. If it does get in, action needs to be taken to slow and stop the spread as much as possible. According to the Illinois Health Care Association and Illinois Center for Assisted Living, nursing homes are required to take four specific steps to limit the spread of COVID-19 in their facilities:

  • Infected residents must be isolated in single rooms.
  • Contact between all residents must be minimized as much as possible by keeping healthy residents in their rooms and enforcing social distancing.
  • Hand-washing, wearing facemasks and gloves, and utilizing other personal protective equipment is crucial for all employees.
  • Staff must increase the monitoring of residents to look for respiratory symptoms and fever.

In addition to those steps, the Illinois Department of Health is recommending facilities place signs at entrances turning away visitors if they have respiratory symptoms and make sure employees have sick leave in the event they develop symptoms. In conjunction with all the requirements and recommendations, basic hygiene, disinfection practices, and access to personal protective equipment is crucial to stopping the spread of a virus once it’s in a facility.

According to state health officials, healthcare resources in Illinois will likely become strained in the coming weeks, which is why facilities need to plan now for enhanced surge capacity. They’ve recommended staying updated with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, in case procedure or protective measures change as the virus spreads.

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