Submitted by Whatcom County Health Department
Do you have a loved one who is a resident of a long-term care facility, nursing home, or assisted living facility? We know it’s very challenging to be separated from your loved ones right now. Know that the protection of your loved ones’ health and safety is central to all of the steps we’re taking. You should also know what these facilities are doing to limit the spread of COVID-19 and what you can do to support your friend or family member.
How are long-term care facilities safely taking care of patients to prevent the spread of COVID-19?
Long-term care facilities are trained and have experience controlling the spread of infectious diseases in their residences. Currently, all long-term care facilities in Washington are following Governor Inslee’s order restricting visitors. The exceptions to this rule are for end-of-life situations or visits by attorneys, administrative law judges, advocates or similar people who represent a resident.
Further guidance from the Washington State Department of Health to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among patients and staff includes:
- canceling all group activities
- active screening of residents to quickly identify any emerging symptoms
- screening all staff at the beginning of their shifts for respiratory illness and fever
- isolating residents with COVID-19 or with symptoms of COVID-19
Local long-term care facilities are working with the us to provide rapid response testing for residents in facilities where a resident has tested positive. As of April 9 we are following new guidance from Washington State Department of Health that says all residents and staff members of a long-term care facility should be tested if the facility has a confirmed COVID-19 case. This allows for quick action to provide enhanced, targeted measures to limit further spread of COVID-19 in the facility.
In order to keep some of our most vulnerable community members healthy, long-term care facilities might use other strategies, such as providing meals in residents rooms and limiting resident movement inside the facility, to make sure that they can keep safe physical distancing among residents. These actions are recommended by the Washington State Department of Health and are used to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in this fragile population.
Why are residents being tested outside?
When testing is being done at a long-term care facility, residents are tested outside with our testing mobile unit. Testing outside helps to increase fresh air flow and in turn decrease the likelihood of surfaces being contaminated inside the building—so that the residents and staff have a decreased risk of being exposed to the virus.
How can I stay in touch with a loved one at a long-term care facility?
It can be frustrating and scary to have a loved one in a long-term care facility right now. Although you cannot visit in person, there are other ways to let them know you are thinking of them.
- Try video chatting. Using a video calling platform to talk to your loved ones is a personal way to keep in touch. If they don’t already have a device to chat on, sending them one may be a nice surprise. Need tech help? Here are instructions for some popular video options:
- Send a gift. Ordering a gift online or mailing one personally is a nice way to share a connection. You could send something like a photo album or digital frame loaded with photos, puzzle games, or flowers.
- Write a letter or send a card. It’s always nice to receive a handwritten note from someone you care about.
- Send a book that you also have a copy of so that you can each read a chapter or two per day and then discuss in the evening.
- Send them something from your home that has emotional significance for them.
Some long-term care facilities are posting new information on their websites with ways to contact residents living there.
Looking out for our elders
Protecting ourselves and those we love by staying apart is hard. But it’s vital that older adults and their loved ones stay at home and away from others right now. People age 60 and over are at higher risk for severe illness and hospitalization, especially those who also have underlying health conditions such as
- heart disease
- asthma and other chronic lung conditions
- chronic liver disease
- kidney disease
- weakened immune system
We know it’s very challenging to be away from your loved ones, especially during a time of change and crisis. Know that at the heart of all of the actions we’re taking is the protection of your loved ones’ health and safety.
Do your part to keep our most vulnerable community members well. Stay home, and stay healthy.