Take a deep breath. You’re not alone in efforts to protect everyone from COVID-19. There’s much sound advice, support, and help available.
The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) recently issued two new Quality, Safety, and Oversight memos addressing COVID-19 (coronavirus) in the skilled nursing environment. These documents offer important guidelines for nursing homes and recommendations that can help keep assisted living community and other senior living residents and staff safe.
Among the recommendations:
- Facilities should screen visitors for: international travel within the last 14 days to restricted countries; signs/symptoms of a respiratory infection, such as fever, cough, and sore throat; contact with someone with or under investigation for COVID-19. If visitors meet these criteria, CMS says, providers “may restrict their entry to the facility.”
- The same screening process used for visitors should be performed for facility staff. Healthcare workers who develop signs/symptoms of a respiratory infection while working should: immediately stop work, put on a facemask, and self-isolate at home; inform the facility’s infection preventionist, and include information on individuals, equipment, and locations the person came in contact with; and contact and follow the local health department recommendations for next steps.
- Facility leadership should refer to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance for exposure that might warrant restricting asymptomatic healthcare personnel from reporting to work.
- CMS encourages facilities to take advantage of CDC and CMS resources to train and prepare staff to improve infection control and prevention practices. The agency also urges a person-centered approach to addressing COVID-19.
At a press briefing last week, David Gifford, MD, senior vice president of quality and regulatory affairs for the American Health Care Association (AHCA), observed that COVID-19 is taking a toll on staffing, as workers with symptoms must stay home until they can be tested. He said, “We are really looking at ways to get staff and residents on a priority list for being tested for the coronavirus when more test kits are distributed across the country.”
Gifford addressed another challenge: the inability of some workers to cross state lines to assist and support facilities in other states due to licensure requirements. For instance, Washington state doesn’t have compacts with other states to allow staff to come into Washington to work. “We are working with CMS to see how states can allow licensed professionals to move between facilities going forward,” Gifford said.
While safety is top priority, it also is essential to address staff morale. A few ways to do this are:
- Provide basic amenities, such as hand sanitizer, gloves, and clean scrubs and gowns.
- Communicate more. Give employees regular updates and information.
- Listen and understand employees’ concerns. Ensure an open-door policy so that staff know they can come to you any time with concerns or suggestions and not be judged or dismissed. Make sure they are aware of the Employee Assistance Program (EAP) and encourage them to seek help if they are feeling stressed or anxious.
- Be a source of inspiration. Maximize employees’ ability to work at home, address issues related to care for their families, educate them on safety precautions and measures, be transparent, and stress your commitment to keeping them safe.