In the new year, the country continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently released guidance to nursing homes and long-term care facilities on practical steps they can take to help reduce the COVID-19 infection rates among residents and staff this winter.
The HHS encouraged nursing homes and long-term care facilities to focus on achieving three goals meant to reduce the hospitalization and death rate among its residents, the population most vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19 exposure. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities are being advised to focus on these three goals:
- Help residents and staff access updated COVID-19 vaccines
- Increase access to testing and awareness of treatment options
- Improve air quality in nursing homes and long-term care facilities
These practical steps can promote healthy living for older Americans and the professionals that care for them in these facilities, HHS says.
Helping Residents and Staff Access Updated COVID Vaccines
Since the initial nationwide push to get people vaccinated against COVID-19, the rate of nursing home residents getting boosters dropped to 42 percent, and the rate of nursing home staff that received updated COVID-19 vaccines dropped to 10 percent.
The Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services (CMS) reported that increased access to COVID-19 vaccines and education about the need for boosters and updated vaccines correlated to decreased infection rates. The HHS guidelines recommend that:
- Nursing homes and long-term care facilities offer updated COVID-19 vaccines throughout the winter
- Residential facilities partner with vaccine providers to create on-site vaccine clinics
- Care facilities educate residents and staff about the need for annual flu shots and updated COVID-19 vaccines
Increasing Access to Testing and Awareness of Treatment Options
Prompt testing and effective treatment are necessary to reducing the spread of COVID-19. According to HHS, residential facilities should ensure each resident and staff member who shows symptoms gets tested.
Nursing homes and long-term care providers should also explain to residents or staff their treatment options and other available resources. Among these resources are the following:
- Weekly tests kits are available, free from the federal government, to nursing homes and long-term care facilities
- Telehealth and virtual care options for COVID-19 evaluation and treatment
- Free at-home test kits available for residents through their health insurance
Improving Air Quality in Nursing Homes and Long-Term Care Facilities
Improving air quality is correlated with decreasing the transmission rate of COVID-19, influenza, and other respiratory diseases. Health care facilities are also being encouraged by the HHS to improve air quality in their facilities. Nursing homes and long-term care facilities can improve their air quality by:
- Using portable air cleaners in dining, recreation, and resident rooms and other areas where people congregate
- Using ceiling fans where available
- Scheduling an inspection for the HVAC system
- Replacing air filters in ventilation systems
- Using restroom fans or kitchen vents to remove contaminated air
- Repairing or replacing broken or damaged windows and doors to promote air ventilation
In acting on the above guidance, the HHS states, nursing homes and long-term care facilities can help decrease the rate of COVID-19 exposure and infection among the population of Americans most vulnerable to the effects of the disease.