With the novel coronavirus invading countries globally, vulnerable populations are exposed to a unique level of threat. Perhaps those most affected by the pandemic universally are residents of elder care facilities. Nearly 41% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States were residents of such facilities, and that is not a circumstance that is unique to our local experience. In addition to facing conditions that are optimal for the spread of the virus, residents are also faced with adverse side effects on their mental health as they endure the hardship of isolation as a protective measure. In many cases, the outbreak is so severe that nursing homes have gone into crisis from significant lack of staffing. Facilities have initiated extreme measures to increase staffing, some to the extent of calling in the National Guard or the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help care for residents.
Elderly Populations Are Presenting As Uniquely Vulnerable
As research progresses into the extent of the effects of the global pandemic, it is found that residents in long term care facilities are uniquely vulnerable to the fallout of the coronavirus. This is likely due to the close-quarters nature of these live-in facilities, which creates an ideal environment for the virus to spread. Combining these ideal conditions with the increased vulnerability of residents due to the prevalence of pre-existing health issues and weakened immune systems gives way for a significant impact of the virus on residents. These are not findings that are unique to the United States. In fact, nearly 80% of COVID-19 related deaths in Canada were residents of elder care facilities. Percentages were high in Spain, Belgium, France, and Sweden as well. In Milan, 300 elderly residents passed due to complications of the novel coronavirus in a single nursing home this spring.
Other Concerns Facing At-Risk Residents
To contain the spread of COVID-19, many elder care facilities within the United States have resorted to social isolation tactics. Limiting resident interaction, isolating potentially ill patients, and restricting or prohibiting visitation are just some of the precautionary measures taken by care workers. While the need for preventative restrictions is clear, residents face a second wave of side effects as a result of social isolation that mirrors those of nursing home abuse. Lack of adequate social interaction can lead to increased mental health issues in patients and proves especially risky for residents suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease. As an additional concern, facilities are overwhelmed with a lack of adequate staffing as care workers face quarantine and compassion fatigue. With an increased risk of illness and a significant drop in available care workers, residents also face heightened exposure to potential medical errors.
How Are Elderly Care Facilities Responding To The Pandemic?
In many cases, the lack of available staffing has placed additional pressure on facilities to find solutions to adequately care for vulnerable residents. The National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have stepped in to offer aide to facilities facing a significant staffing crisis. In rare cases, some residents are evacuated to reduce their exposure when high levels of infection are present among staff and other residents. To aid in compassion fatigue and burnout, many facilities are bringing in counselors to work directly with staff. Preventative testing measures are taking place within nursing homes to pinpoint potential asymptomatic carriers among staff and residents. In addition, rapid response teams are working hard to quickly isolate patients and staff that test positive. In some nations, care workers are contained strictly to the facility, adapting to live-in positions to lower the risk of exposure. Not all nursing homes can keep up with the costs of live-in staffing and regular testing, however, presenting some privatized care facilities with an entirely new set of obstacles.
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