The Coronavirus Task Force reported on Wednesday that “nursing home inspection resources” which normally focus on detecting abuse and neglect problems “will be redirected exclusively to ensuring compliance with infection control standards.” The crisis in Kirkland, Washington exposed vulnerabilities which are being addressed sooner, rather than later.
A focus on infection control
At Wednesday’s daily briefing by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Vice President Mike Pence announced new COVID-19 prevention guidelines for nursing homes. Even though risk to the public for contracting the coronavirus “remains low, it does appear that the elderly are the most vulnerable, especially those with serious health issues.”
Vice President Pence explained that all available “nursing home inspection resources” which normally focus on detecting abuse and neglect problems “will be redirected exclusively to ensuring compliance with infection control standards.”
Seema Verma, the Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator, added that three separate coronavirus related memos were released Wednesday. One was sent to hospitals with guidelines on the initial “triage” evaluation of patients with suspected symptoms.
The other two memos address the special handling required by nursing homes underscored by the crisis in Kirkland, Washington. A letter went out to nursing homes stressing the need to limit visitors and monitor staff. The crucial set of guidelines was a detailed set of instructions for the state nursing home inspectors.
The crisis in Kirkland, Washington
Four residents of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, have died and others are hospitalized, one of the center’s health care workers is in the hospital with them. Out of “108 residents and 180 staff members, more than 50 have shown signs of possible Covid-19 infection.” That is the name of the disease. The official name for the virus itself was changed from 2019-nCoV to HCoV-19.
The residents of elder care facilities are especially at risk for serious complications from the aggravating factors of both advanced age and close living conditions. Roughly 2.2 million people live in long-term care settings. The top health officer for the Seattle and King County public health agency, Dr. Jeff Duchin, explains, “We are very concerned about an outbreak in a setting where there are many older people.”
Because the virus spreads through droplets in the air, the best strategy is to focus on the basics like, “hand sanitation among staff and visitors, grouping people who become ill in the same room or wing and asking family members who are sick to avoid in-person visits.”
Geriatric doctor Karl Steinberg is more than a little nervous. The news of Covid-19 cases at the Washington state nursing center has him worried. “That’s very scary. It worries me that once it gets going, it will be really hard to control the spread.” He serves as medical director for two Southern California nursing homes and as chief medical officer for a chain of 20 others.