What do top-level athletes, no matter what sport they play, have in common? They never stop drilling the fundamentals of the game. As COVID-19 (a.k.a. coronavirus) continues to spread into our most vulnerable populations, skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) are reeling from the impact. While the risk for survey citations is apparent (see CMS’ latest memo, revised on March 9th), SNFs’ top priority is protecting their residents, staff, and communities.
As you put your COVID-19 plan into practice, focus on these fundamentals (but wash your hands first):
Basic Infection Control Principles
Your SNF already has an infection prevention and control policy and procedure in place; as you prepared for the Phase 3 Requirements of Participation this policy would have had a thorough revision. If this policy hasn’t yet been put to the test, now is the time. The training and leadership of your Infection Preventionist will pay off – for example, having the appropriate precautions in place for the type of contagion. The CDC guidance for COVID-19 calls for standard, contact, and airborne precautions.
Assess Your Resources and Supplies
Part of the effect of the virus’ spread is the impact on the supply chain. Evaluate your access to key supplies – such as gloves, masks, and other personal protective equipment (PPE). Coordinate with your local referring hospital on an agreement to use them as a go-to resource if you have a critical shortage. Also know how to get in touch with your local health department – not only for updates on local infection rates, but also for assistance with accessing outside supply sources.
Staff Education and Preparation
Infection control is already part of your annual mandatory staff training. Make sure that this program is up to date with the latest standards of infection prevention and control. Ensure that all your staff are trained – this means you, Business Office Managers! For direct care staff, make sure that you have a return demonstration of handwashing, donning and doffing PPE, and handling laundry and disposables. This is a team where every single player has an important role.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
With every day bringing more serious news reports about the spread of COVID-19, your residents and their families are looking to you to keep them in the loop. Use your regular newsletter/e-news to provide the latest updates. Offer conference calls or webinars to reach out to far-away family members. Make sure that your visitation plan is clear, posted in easy-to-understand language, and enforced consistently. If you need to limit outside visitors due to active infection in the area, reach out to the families directly rather than relying on a sign on the door. Most of all, be available for questions…the residents and families are part of your team, too!