Coronavirus preparedness planning for senior living communities

By Lori Heilstedt / Special to Healthcare Facilities Today
March 17, 2020

While there is much to learn about the newly emerged coronavirus COVID-19, we do know that the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) a public health emergency of International concern. 

As a result, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been coordinating efforts with the U.S. government, public health partners, WHO and other global partners to aggressively respond to the global outbreak and prepare for the potential of community spread in the United States. 

The risk of getting COVID-19 in the U.S. is currently low, however, CDC officials have warned it is only a matter of time before it spreads among communities in the United States. According to a recent CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, fourteen cases have been diagnosed in the United States and since its release, two deaths have been reported. 

There is much to learn about the transmissibility, severity, and other features of the newly emerged COVID-19.  It is difficult to make predictions with any degree of certainty about how the virus will spread or what will happen. However, the CDC and WHO have provided interim guidance on measures to slow and contain transmission of COVID-19.

Now is the time for senior living communities to act and prepare for the potential spread in the United States. Below are recommended strategies to proactively prepare your Senior Living community. The CDC and WHO websites also provide great tools and resources; links to specific resource tools are provided in the below recommendations.   

1. Review/update organizational policies and operational practices:

a. Emergency Preparedness (Pandemic) Plans 

b. Human Resource

i. Ensure practices are consistent with public health recommendations and existing state and federal workplace laws

ii.  Emphasize staying home when sick, plan for how your organization will operate if there is increase absenteeism

c. Infection prevention and control for senior care facilities.

i. CDC has published infection control recommendations for COVID-19 to include assessment and triage of residents with acute respiratory symptoms, resident placement, precautions, including use of personal protective equipment, visitor management and source control 

ii. Inventory and ensure adequate supply of personal protective equipment

iii. Ensure routine environmental cleaning and disinfection   

2. Prepare staff, residents and visitors:  

a. Share the latest information about COVID-19 and refer to reliable sources such as the CDC Strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 in Long Term Care Facilities.

b. Educate your team on COVID-19 – what causes the COVID-19 respiratory illness, how it can be spread, symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath), what to do if sick, and how to prevent spreading the disease.  The CDC has made Educational handouts and posters available on its  website.

c. Refresh staff with education on hand hygiene and proper use of personal protective equipment (PPE) to include sequence for putting on and removing PPE

3. Create a Communication Plan for all stakeholders:

a. Ensure your communication plan includes how to report a potential COVID-19 case or exposure and how to contact and receive information from your state or local public health agency

b. The WHO has a COVID-19 Risk Communication Package for Healthcare Facilities

There is new information discovered daily about COVID-19.  Prepare your senior living community by keeping up with current events and be ready to implement additional recommendations as they become available.   

 Lori Heilstedt is a Healthcare Safety Advocate at Assurance


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