COVID-19 has outsized effect on California nursing home and residential care residents and staff

As our loved ones age and become vulnerable, the decision to seek nursing home care can be a difficult one. The goal is always to provide a healthy and fulfilling environment that promotes dignity and well-being, but the actual work of elder care poses challenges that affect nursing home facilities and families alike. However, nursing homes are required to follow the law when providing care, even during a pandemic.

Moreover, the shared concerns of families and care providers have been amplified by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been especially hard on the elderly population throughout California. Following are some facts and statistics that may be of interest to families who are dealing with the challenges of having an elderly or disabled family member in a residential care facility or nursing home.

Nursing homes must adjust to the ‘new normal’

Seniors have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and nursing homes have become a focal point for policy changes to protect residents and staff. The obvious difficulty is adjusting to the demands of a pandemic that is unprecedented in modern times, and nursing facilities and the families they serve continue to look for ways of minimizing the risk. In fact, nursing home and residential care facilities are obligated to properly staff and follow protocols to minimize the risk to their residents.

According to the California Department of Public Health, skilled-nursing and assisted-living facilities throughout the state have reported 6,835 COVID-related deaths as of Dec. 8, 2020. The vulnerability of nursing home residents is underscored by the fact that only 3% of California’s coronavirus cases have been in nursing homes, but nursing home residents make up 34% of the state’s coronavirus deaths.

In many cases, the required physical contact between staff and residents puts both parties at risk of COVID-19 infection. For example, nearly all residents of nursing homes have self-care limitations. That means someone else must help with the residents’ dressing, bathing and getting around. In fact, about 43% of nursing home residents in California are age 85 or older, and many of those residents need help with self-care. This is why it is particularly important for nursing home and residential care facilities to implement proper protocols to keep everyone safe.

Of course, COVID-19 concerns are in addition to the basic nursing home duties and obligations of proper staffing, administering medications, moving disabled residents to protect against infections and pressure ulcers, and monitoring residents to protect them from falls, which are another leading cause of death among the elderly.

As the nation awaits a vaccine in the months to come, the hope is that efforts on the part of Californians and people throughout the country will result in a significant “flattening of the curve” of infections. Until then, families and nursing homes alike will need to do their part to protect vulnerable loved ones from what has become the greatest threat to the elderly population in modern times. Families should keep in touch and insist on regular updates about their loved ones, as well as making regular video calls, if visits are not an option.