Nursing homes are intended to be safe, sanitary places for seniors, but they can also become breeding grounds for serious infections. Over the years, there have been several outbreaks of respiratory infections and noroviruses in nursing care facilities across the United States. Being aware of the risks of infection in nursing homes is critical so you can identify if your loved one is becoming ill due to improper hand hygiene practices or a lack of communication between healthcare staff members. A nursing home lawyer can help you get fair compensation and medical treatment on their behalf.
What Are the Risks of Infections in Nursing Homes?
In the United States, there are about 15,600 nursing homes, and over 1 million seniors rely on them for their care every day. Residents of nursing homes are more likely to contract infections because of their declining health and close contact with other residents.
The Centers for Disease Control reports that 1-3 million severe infections occur in nursing homes and assisted living facilities each year. Germs pose a major threat to individuals with diseases or pre-existing conditions, which can further endanger their health.
These other risks can also increase the chance of an infectious outbreak among nursing home residents.
Poor Oral Hygiene
Poor oral hygiene and problems breathing and swallowing among residents can increase the spread of respiratory infections, particularly bacterial and viral pathogens that cause pneumonia.
Research indicates that nursing home residents’ oral hygiene can be improved, including comprehensive dental programs such as specially trained nursing staff in homes to care for the residents’ teeth. When proper oral hygiene is maintained among nursing home residents, the risk of getting pneumonia decreases by 6.6–11.7%.
Lack of Proper Hand Hygiene
Seniors who use urinary catheters or similar devices are at an increased risk for UTIs. In nursing homes, 3-7% of residents with a bladder device will get a UTI every day the device is in place, and 50% will get some type of infection within their first year. A lack of hand hygiene is associated with these UTIs and skin diseases like scabies and diarrheal diseases such as gastroenteritis.
Nursing assistants who help residents in their daily tasks such as bathing, grooming, going to the toilet, and other activities can improve their hand hygiene practices to prevent these diseases. Other staff members such as physical therapists and occupational therapists who see residents regularly should also be educated about appropriate hand hygiene practices to mitigate the spread of infection between individuals.
Pressure on Nursing Homes for Medical Care
As the Baby Boomer population ages, the healthcare industry has seen an increase in the need for extended-care facilities. As hospitals try to reduce patient stay times and shift care to nursing homes to save on in-hospital expenses, the number of older patients seeking long-term care has increased.
Many people staying in nursing homes for extended periods now have more severe diseases that require extensive medical treatment and attention. The pressure on nursing facilities to provide comprehensive medical care to all their residents increases the risk of a potential infectious outbreak among residents.
Frequent Health Care Transitions
Nursing home residents are often transferred to other units for more medical care. They may be moved from the emergency room into an inpatient unit after being treated and stabilized. Then, they may be discharged to a rehabilitation unit before returning to their room in the nursing home.
The constant movement from one unit to another leaves residents vulnerable to infections since the nursing home healthcare workers may not always follow proper infection control and safety guidelines and communicate with other staff members. Patients may also be vulnerable to medical errors such as administering incorrect antibiotic dosages not based on a prescription written by a specialist.
Over-Reliance on Antibiotics
Many nursing homes use antibiotics to treat patients frequently rather than rely on clinical examinations to provide residents with appropriate medications and medical care. A constant need for antibiotics could be attributed to several factors in nursing homes, such as lacking onsite physicians to give proper treatment. The overuse of antibiotics can lead to drug interactions, adverse drug reactions, and developing resistance to other drugs, leaving residents vulnerable to infections.