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Infection Control and the Future of Skilled Nursing

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It is no secret that COVID-19 heavily impacted the medical field along with the rest of the world. One of the hardest hit areas within the healthcare field was nursing homes, where 136,000 residents and 2,000 workers sadly passed away from the virus. Nursing home residents make up less than 1% of the US population, and yet they accounted for 1 in 5 COVID-19 related deaths overall. While these numbers are devastating, unfortunately high infection rates and disease spread is not uncommon in nursing facilities.

 

Before COVID-19, 380,000 nursing home residents died due to infection annually. It has been proven that 1 to 3 million serious infections occur every year in nursing homes, skilled nursing facilities, and assisted living facilities. Some of these diseases can include respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, and influenza. While these may not be terribly dangerous in the general population, residents of nursing homes are at an increased risk of serious infection and death, making infection control  all the more important in these facilities. 

 

With the high spread of infections in these facilities, many are being hit with heavy fines due to failure to abide by infection control policies. 40% of nursing homes overall were cited for poor infection control practices even before the pandemic. With poor practices and heavy fines, more than 300 nursing homes have closed during the pandemic, and 25% of the remaining facilities are in danger of closing within the next year. While money is a large issue, many facilities are also struggling due to a lack of staff.

 

Since January of 2020, roughly 236,000 caregivers have left which is 15% of the total nursing home workforce. 89% of healthcare organizations are experiencing a staffing shortage, but nursing homes and facilities are being hit even harder. 

 

Nurses are leaving their facilities in such large numbers due to overall stress that has carried on through the pandemic. 2 years into the pandemic US nurses have reported feeling stressed, frustrated, exhausted, undervalued, and overwhelmed. Along with this additional stress and negative feelings, nurses also faced the challenge of communicating and implementing new policies.  These high stress levels along with the new challenge of policy implementation can often lead health workers to skip even simple infection control practices such as washing their hands. 

 

When healthcare workers are skipping basic hygiene and cleanliness practices, it puts themselves and their patients at greater risk for infection. Lowering their stress load is imperative to ensure that nurses are taking the extra time to ensure they are adhering to all health and safety guidelines within their nursing facilities. With proper training and support, this can be achieved, but changes need to be made. The patients who are in nursing facilities are some of the most vulnerable, so it is important that all necessary precautions are taken to ensure they are kept safe and healthy. Infection rates were already high before the pandemic, and they are continuing to rise. Read more on how to solve this crisis in the infographic below:

Based in LA, Alice Blake is a senior reporter for Kivo Daily. She primarily covers entrepreneurs.

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