This op-ed was submitted by Elizabeth Straus, executive vice president of CareOne, which oversees 60 skilled nursing and assisted living facilities in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. It does not necessarily reflect the views of Patch.
By Lizzy Straus
Day after day, headlines report grim statistics about COVID-19’s impact on America’s long-term care facilities. This death-fueled narrative reflects the macabre underbelly of journalism, while doing nothing to explain what is happening in skilled nursing and rehabilitation centers.
Americans deserve better. In this time of pandemic, communities are frightened. They need facts, not fear. Above all, the public should understand how and why the overwhelming majority of facilities do their best with what they have, every day, to save as many lives as possible. Neglecting to note that residents come into our centers from the hospital having tested positive for COVID-19, failing to report the recovery rate of residents entrusted to our care, or overlooking these inspiring stories of recuperation doesn’t benefit the public.
As we strive to keep residents and employees safe, help infected patients recover and attend to the emotional needs of families, two factors explain the coronavirus experience in nursing homes. The first is social distancing. Residents and patients are admitted into nursing and rehab centers because they require hands-on care and treatment around the clock. Our residents require constant physical contact; from cleaning, to feeding, to dressing. This reality negates the most important and effective mitigation strategy against the spread of coronavirus. Personal protective equipment is available and used by our employees, but it is not infallible.
Second, long-term care facilities treat the most fragile and compromised members of our society. Most have been hospitalized prior to arriving in nursing homes. Others are permanently disabled. These patients and residents are more susceptible to infection and transmissible disease. Even before COVID, our caregivers lived with the ever- present understanding that residents will pass from this earth even while receiving the greatest of care. Coronavirus only accentuates this unpleasant fact.
Amid this challenging and rapidly changing environment, providers remain steadfast in pursuit of our primary and most important task — caring for residents and patients.
That’s not going to change.
At CareOne, we understand residents and patients are real people, not statistics, who become part of our extended family. Too many of them have been afflicted by this terrible virus. We strictly follow the guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Protection — and exceeding CDC recommendations wherever possible — to protect them.
We also are listening and learning. This is the only way we can improve outcomes. Leveraging extensive experience accrued during the first weeks of the pandemic, CareOne gathered an elaborate set of outcome data from centers that experienced the highest number of cases and widest range of case presentations. This approach allowed our team to develop standards for evaluating and managing known or suspected COVID-19 patients. We call this the COVID-Capable℠ model of care.
Our regimen encompasses emerging standards, protocols and best practices for protecting and treating at-risk populations. Care plans and treatment protocols vary depending on the condition of patients, but all include frequent respiratory assessments, daily respiratory treatments, and rigorous, focused nursing assessments for every COVID-positive patient. Additional steps include standard hydration procedures (including IV fluids as indicated), baseline and follow-up EKGs for all patients, and focused restorative eating when symptoms such as cough, nausea and lethargy are present.
To ensure that our facilities meet the standards needed to capably accept and treat COVID-19 positive patients, CareOne has installed negative pressure systems and HEPA filters, which reduce the possibility of viral transmission via HVAC systems. We work every day to ensure the additional staffing levels needed to provide intensive care necessary at a time when market forces have significantly increased staffing costs.
Every American acknowledges the remarkable and courageous work frontline long-term care employees do every day to care for the most vulnerable members of our community. These selfless acts benefit our grandparents, our parents, friends, and loved ones. The risks that workers take cannot be understated. Our caregivers hold hands and offer personal comfort, sometimes in a patient’s final hours. We are so proud of the courage and compassion our team brings to work each day.
The danger posed by the coronavirus don’t end when the work day ends. The virus threatens to follow staff members home. Many employees have made the excruciating decision to send children and loved ones to live elsewhere. Others physically separate themselves at home to prevent family members from possibly falling ill. Too many of these brave souls haven’t seen or hugged their children for weeks because of their dedication to work. This level of sacrifice is nothing short of selfless and heroic. The federal government has declared war against the coronavirus. It is a war, one in which caregivers and staff march courageously to the front lines every day. They do an incredible job and deserve nothing less than our deepest admiration and appreciation.