Nursing home and long-term care facility residents generally live in close proximity to one another. Because of this, communicable diseases like the seasonal flu often spread easily. However, if you or a loved one reside in such a facility, it is important to know that the facility and its staff should be taking reasonable precautions to ensure the health of all residents and as such, prevent the spread of illnesses like the flu. If not properly treated, elderly individuals can experience severe and sometimes fatal illnesses during influenza outbreaks.
While the flu can present itself any time of the year, it is especially common during the fall and winter months. If not handled properly, the flu can be introduced into a care facility by newly admitted residents, health care workers and visitors, and then spread throughout the whole facility.
The nursing home facility has responsibilities
To combat such occurrences, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) requires all nursing homes that wish to participate in Medicare and Medicaid programs to offer all residents flu and pneumonia vaccines. CMS mandates that each resident should be vaccinated unless there are medical constraints, the resident or legal representative refuses vaccination or the vaccine is not available.
It is crucial for care facilities to properly prepare, prevent and respond to any influenza (or other) outbreak. Be aware that unusual, widespread and repeated infections may be a sign that the nursing home staff has been negligent in its duty. While infections are not always preventable, it is the responsibility of the staff to manage and contain transmissible illnesses.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Recommendations
As it has shown most effective, the CDC recommends that residents and staff of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities receive regular annual influenza vaccinations. But beyond the mere vaccination, facilities are expected to take other special precautions to help control the spread of the illness. The CDC recommends that facilities take the following preventative actions:
- Administration of antiviral drugs for treatment to control outbreaks.
- Identify residents who may have come in contact with ill residents.
- Provide surveillance and flu testing for new illness cases.
- Reoffer flu vaccinations to unvaccinated staff and patients.
- Restrict staff movement between wards or buildings.
- Restrict the contact between ill staff or visitors with patients.
- Provide educational prevention strategies, such as hand-washing or cough etiquette programs.