How Nursing Homes Can Manage and Contain Infectious Disease Outbreaks

Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have a duty to provide their residents with safe accommodations and adequate, compassionate medical care. Seniors residing in nursing homes typically have serious health conditions, and as such are at a higher risk of developing infectious diseases. If an infectious disease like the flu or pneumonia, or an antibiotic-resistant “superbug” infection, were to spread within a nursing facility, the consequences could be devastating. Nursing home insurance is only one part of a more comprehensive risk management approach for care facilities; managing and containing infectious disease outbreaks can protect resident and staff health. 

Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Nursing Homes: Alarming Statistics

According to a study published in the December 2011 edition of Aging Health, it was estimated that over 1.5 million people rely on nursing homes for care. That number has grown since then, and today over 2 million seniors reside in the nation’s 16,000 long-term care facilities. On average, nursing home residents in the United States experience about two million infections each year. This high rate of infection has driven up morbidity and mortality rates, not to mention staggering healthcare costs. 

Common nursing home infection outbreaks include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Influenza
  • Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Gastroenteritis from norovirus, E. coli, and similar foodborne pathogens

Seniors in nursing homes are especially susceptible to disease outbreaks due to several factors. First, many nursing home residents have weakened immune systems from other diseases and aging. Next, tight living arrangements in many facilities means that infections can spread easily through airborne or physical contact vectors. Finally, overuse of antibiotics and anti-microbial cleaning solutions has hastened the development of so-called “superbugs” that are resistant to many forms of antibiotics. An investigative news article published by Reuters suggested that there were over 300 superbug outbreaks in healthcare facilities in the United States in the period between 2011 and 2016. In the nursing home setting, rampant infections can cause severe illness or even death. 

Managing and Preventing Disease Outbreaks

For nursing home facility managers and staff, controlling infectious diseases is as important as having robust nursing home insurance policies in place. To control outbreaks, a four-part approach is necessary:

  • Outbreak preparedness
  • Disease detection
  • Outbreak management
  • Outbreak prevention

Before an outbreak occurs, long-term care facilities must be adequately prepared. This includes creating protocols for handling disease outbreaks and the residents affected by infectious diseases. The role of immunizations for nursing home staff cannot be overstated; immunization against common infectious diseases for those in direct contact with residents both reduces transmission rates and helps provide protection for staff members. Staff training on disease control and hygiene practices are also a vital part of the preparedness process.

Detecting the presence of disease-spreading pathogens is important. Training staff on the signs and symptoms of common infectious diseases is part of the detection process, as is maintaining adequate records. The earlier an outbreak is reported, the easier it can be to manage. 

To manage a disease outbreak, nursing homes can implement several infection control measures, including:

  • Curtailing admissions, visitors, and transfers of residents unless absolutely essential.
  • Increasing the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) like gloves, gowns, and face shields.
  • Using disinfectant products to clean infected areas, especially common areas where residents congregate and foodservice equipment.
  • Limiting group activities until the threat of outbreak is past. 
  • Providing enhanced care for infected residents.
  • Implementing “quarantine” rooms for infected residents; rooms should be sealed and provided with negative pressure to help prevent further spread of pathogens. 

Preventative measures for nursing homes include staff training, resident awareness programs, and immunizations for common infectious diseases. Residents who are able to should receive vaccines, including annual influenza vaccines as well as for other communicable diseases like hepatitis, pneumonia, and typhus. 

It is important for nursing home managers and staff to know that nursing home insurance is only one part of a broad risk management strategy for facilities. Disease outbreaks can negatively impact the lives and safety of nursing home residents, and in worst-case scenarios, can cause unfortunate deaths. With adequate infection outbreak preparation and preventative measures in place, nursing homes may continue to provide safe healthcare for vulnerable seniors. 

About Caitlin Morgan

Caitlin Morgan specializes in insuring assisted living facilities and nursing homes and can assist you in providing insurance and risk management services for this niche market. Give us a call to learn more about our programs at 877.226.1027.