What COVID-19 Means for Your Loved Ones in Nursing Homes

Old man looking out the window with a mask on

COVID-19 is still a serious concern for many people across the country, especially nursing home residents. The elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are highly vulnerable to COVID-19, and many nursing home residents fall into one or both categories.

Upwards of 40 nursing homes in over a dozen Alabama counties, both rural and urban, have confirmed COVID-19 cases among their residents and/or staff. One nursing home alone in Mobile, Alabama has 94 confirmed cases and 10 deaths, as of April 18, 2020.

Brandon Farmer, president, and CEO of the Alabama Nursing Home Association (which represents 94% of the state’s nursing homes) stated: “I predict the number of nursing homes with cases will grow as more tests are administered and the results are returned. The delays in receiving test kits and test results are beyond our control yet places our residents and employees at great risk.”

Nationwide, nursing home deaths attributed to coronavirus were as high as 5,500 as of April 15, 2020. And experts believe those numbers will only continue to rise.

If you have a parent or other loved one living in a nursing home, you may be worried about their safety and what you can do to help them. Here’s what you need to know.

How Can I Safely Visit a Loved One in a Nursing Home?

On March 13, the Alabama Nursing Home Association issued guidelines stating that nursing homes should “restrict all visitors…with exceptions for compassionate care, such as end-of-life situations.”

In the rare cases where visitors are allowed, visitors must wear personal protective equipment (PPE) like face masks. Visits should be restricted to a single room designated for that purpose only. Visitors will be asked to report any fever or flu-like symptoms experienced within 14 days of visiting.

However, your nursing home may offer alternative methods for visitation. Ask a staff member about setting up a video conference with your loved one.

Can my loved one catch COVID-19 from another resident?

It’s possible, but measures are being taken to prevent it.

In order to restrict the transmission of the virus, the Alabama Nursing Home Association has issued guidelines directing nursing homes to cancel communal dining and group activities. Guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control also recommend all nursing homes place hand sanitizer in every resident room.

CDC guidelines state all nursing homes residents should be monitored daily for fever, and patient quarantines should be in effect for any resident with a confirmed case of COVID-19.

Can my loved one catch COVID-19 from a nursing home worker?

It’s possible, but measures are being taken to prevent it.

Nursing homes are being asked to strictly enforce sick leave policies and bar all-volunteer and non-essential healthcare workers and other personnel, such as barbers, from entering the facility to reduce the risk of spreading the virus.

Nursing homes should also actively screen all essential healthcare personnel for fever and respiratory symptoms at the beginning of every shift.

Can my loved one get tested for COVID-19 if they live in a nursing home?

The Alabama Department of Public Health states nursing homes may test any resident for COVID-19 they deem necessary, regardless of symptoms.

The Alabama Nursing Home Association recommends all nursing homes test all residents and employees for COVID-19.

Should I take my loved one out of the nursing home until the pandemic is over?

This should be determined on a case-by-case basis. You should only consider removing your loved one from their nursing home if you are prepared and have the resources to be a full-time caregiver.

If they require a wheelchair or walker, will they need to climb stairs in your home to access the bedroom, kitchen, or bathroom? Are other members of your household social distancing? What are your loved one’s health needs, and have these changed since they entered the facility? You should know the answers to these questions before removing your loved one from their nursing home.

You should also ask the facility what their policy is on removing residents. Your loved one may lose their room and need to join a waiting list to move back into the facility when the coronavirus risk has passed.

How can I help my loved one get through quarantine in isolation?

Quarantining is hard, especially on elderly loved ones who no longer have access to friends in the facility or visits from family. Emotional health can be just as important as physical health, which is why you may want to consider the following options to help your loved one get through quarantine.

  • Overdrive is a mobile app that allows users to access free e-books and audiobooks through their local library directly from their smartphone or tablet, with no trips to the library required.
  • HBO is offering a catalog of over 500 hours of programming for free throughout the month of April with no subscription required.
  • The New York Metropolitan Opera is streaming live performances every night (7:30 p.m. ET), which can be viewed for free from a web browser.
  • Google’s Art & Culture collection provides free virtual online tours of hundreds of museums across the world.

Stay Safe Out There

Coronavirus is still impacting our families, and it may be several weeks before the threat to our loved ones is completely eliminated. Make sure to follow all safety guidelines, including self-isolating, practicing social distancing, and repeated handwashing and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces. By following these practices, we can help flatten the curve and give our loved ones in nursing facilities a reduced risk of infection and greater peace of mind.

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