Few people, especially those within healthcare, are unaware that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the nursing home and long-term care areas of the care continuum harder than anywhere else. The skilled nursing environment, unfortunately, became a place where COVID-19 was easily transferred between patients, residents, family members, and staff, necessitating lockdowns, the prohibition of visitors, and elimination of resident gatherings. While some measures were successful in preventing additional widespread infection and loss of life, there were inherent challenges for this care environment in the face of the pandemic. According to a recent media briefing about nursing facilities and the COVID-19 pandemic, Duke University eldercare experts emphasized that “Nursing homes will continue to be COVID-19 hotspots until state and federal officials can institute sweeping testing of asymptomatic patients and workers.” Even with reduced infection rates, unvaccinated residents are still at serious risk.
This blog post concludes our series based on the HealthStream article, 10 Considerations for COVID-19 and Long-Term Care, which examines specific considerations and recommendations to improve the prospects for people living in this long term care, offered by three Duke experts in the eldercare and public policy space.
The COVID-19 pandemic is changing many things in our world for good and bad. Nathan Boucher describes how the industry has made great strides in using remote connectivity for the benefit of residents. He adds that beyond using telehealth for clinician interactions, technology has great promise for mitigating some of the social isolation that has been a problem in residential care before COVID-19. Eleanor Schildwachter McConnell believes the industry must take the role of the workforce much more seriously in long-term care, especially by “institutionalizing a living wage so that there isn’t the risk of people needing to have multiple jobs in order to make ends meet.” She reminds us that employees in nursing facilities play a critical role, whether in basic physical care or in promoting general wellbeing. For Donald Taylor, the COVID-19 crisis in nursing homes has brought attention to this area of care in a way it often doesn’t receive. He believes there is an opportunity to make a difference in how we appreciate and invest in the residential care system and the quality of care it provides.
Nathan Boucher is an Assistant Research Professor in the Sanford School of Public Policy at Duke. He studies patients’ and caregivers’ experiences and expectations of health care delivery during advanced illness and near the end of life.
Eleanor Schildwachter McConnell is an Associate Professor at the Duke University School of Nursing. She studies factors that influence functional decline in very frail older adults. Her research has been funded by the National Institute of Nursing Research and the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Donald Taylor is a Professor of Public Policy who researches aging and comparative health systems, including Medicare, long-term care, and health policy. Taylor also directs Duke’s Social Science Research Center.
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