Nursing homes and other long term care facilities have been especially hard hit by COVID-19, leaving many families worried about their loved ones and unsure about what to do. You can help by understanding what’s going on and by talking to your loved one to address their questions and concerns. You can also stay in touch with them remotely, which will help keep them from feeling isolated and alone.
A question on many people’s minds is “how did COVID-19 get into a nursing home in the first place?”
In some cases, a resident may have come into the facility with the virus after returning from travel or even after a trip to the grocery store or the doctor. In the same way, it could have been introduced by a visitor, a volunteer or a staff member. The reason is simple: when the pandemic first hit the United States, most people were still unaware of the risk, so the virus spread through people who may not have even had symptoms.
COVID-19 is highly contagious so once a resident, staff member or volunteer inside a group home had COVID-19, it could spread rapidly throughout the building. That’s what has happened in nursing homes and assisted living facilities; every time an infected person coughed or sometimes even breathed, they transmitted the virus to anyone within six feet.
If your loved one is in a facility with no cases of COVID-19
For group homes with no known cases of COVID-19, the most important thing is keeping it out. This is why facilities have stopped allowing visitors and volunteers; keeping the residents safe depends on limiting the number of people who can come in.
Of course, staff members still have to come in every day and that creates a risk of infection, especially for staff members who work in several different facilities. Only essential staff members should be working on site. They should also wear personal protective equipment (PPE) at all times and should change their PPE after coming into contact with each resident.
Facilities should also be following social distancing guidelines. For group homes, that means group activities are canceled and meals are served in rooms. Residents are encouraged to stay in their own rooms as much as possible and if they have to leave, they should wear a facemask and maintain six feet distance from other people.
If your loved one is in a facility with known cases of COVID-19
Once a group home has a suspected case of COVID-19, extra care must be taken to isolate patients while also providing healthcare services. Facilities should have a special wing or floor away from everyone else for COVID-19 patients and specific employees should be dedicated to that area only – they should not work both with COVID-19 patients and also with other residents.
Residents without COVID-19 symptoms should be following the same guidelines as in other group homes; they should stay in their rooms as much as possible and when they have to leave, should wear a facemask and maintain social distancing.
Remember that long-term care facilities are overwhelmed right now — especially if there is an outbreak, the staff’s priority is keeping the residents safe. While they should still try to find time to address the concerns of family members, they probably don’t have as much time as they usually do to talk to family members. Be patient with them.
Staying in touch
For many residents of group homes, it’s hard not being allowed to see visitors or participate in group activities. Many struggle with loneliness or depression. Fortunately, there are ways to visit remotely. Many nursing homes have set up window stations for visitors. Friends and family can call the facility and to schedule a window visit with a loved one.
Visitors can be escorted to a large window or sliding glass door where they can watch safely from inside while visitors smile and wave – or perform songs or dances for them – from outside. Window visitation can be done over the phone as well, in which case, both the resident and the visitor talk on the phone while being able to see each other through the window.
Many facilities have also helped set up computers and email accounts for residents who don’t already have them, and of course, talking on the phone is always a safe way to stay in touch.
If your loved one is bedridden or unable to talk on the phone, call the facility to ask for help – in most cases, staff members can take a phone or tablet into a room and hold it up, allowing visitors to see or speak to their loved ones over Skype or Zoom.
Questions to ask the staff:
- If you are worried about a loved one in an assisted living facility or nursing home, there are questions you can ask the staff about sanitation and You can also ask about the mental health of residents and what options there are for remote visitation.
- Are employees screened each day for COVID-19? How are they screened? Are their temperatures taken when they arrive to work each day?
- Does the facility have enough PPE for employees to change every time they interact with a resident?
- Is there a separate unit set aside for COVID-19 patients?
- Do the staff who treat COVID-19 patients also work with other residents?
- Have cloth masks been provided to all residents? Are they required to wear them when leaving their rooms?
- How are food, groceries and toiletries being delivered?
- Is mail being set aside for 24 hours before it is delivered?
- Have all residents been informed about social distancing, hand-washing and facemask guidelines?
- Can I send packages to my loved one? Will they be set aside for 24 hours, or sanitized with disinfectant before being delivered?
- Is there a window visitation station?
- If my loved one needs help with social media, Zoom or email, can you help them set it up?
- Are there any options for mental health check-ins, such as counseling?
While the pandemic is especially hard on those in group homes, there are ways to keep residents safe and also to help keep them connected with the outside world. When in doubt, ask the staff how they can help you and your loved one stay in touch while apart.