From Michigan and Minnesota to Colorado, flu outbreaks are slamming long term care and assisted living facilities this flu season. Some facilities are shutting down completely to contain the spread of influenza, allowing only medical personnel, caregivers, or immediate family members to enter if necessary, a very common practice.
About 90 percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in those over the age of 65. And with new information now revealing that more than three-quarters of U.S. flu shots are ineffective, flu poses a greater risk to the elderly this year.

Steps To Take

Long term care and assisted living facilities must closely evaluate and review their infection prevention protocols to help minimize exposure to this most vulnerable population. Here’s a reminder of seven simple steps caregivers and clinicians can take to help protect residents, family members, workers, and visitors—steps that are more critical than ever because of this year’s weak vaccine:
  • Review containment plans now before they are needed. Know how to isolate potential symptomatic patients or residents to mitigate exposure potential. Practice the plans so everyone is familiar with them before there is a surge of illness to contain. For example, if the facility were to lock down, monitor staff for signs and symptoms constantly, so they do not expose residents to the virus. It’s also important to watch residents closely for depression and offer up modern technology in tools like FaceTime or Skype to keep them connected to family and friends during an isolation period.
  • Ensure lobbies, common areas, and high-traffic spots are clean and germ-free. Make hand sanitizer accessible. Choose one with high alcohol content, effective against a broad range of pathogens, and that can kill germs in seconds.
  • Offer antiviral face masks to residents, in addition to health care workers and visitors.
  • Wipe down all high-contact surfaces. Caregivers always need to ensure that viruses are not catching a ride on an unsuspecting hand or person. Help reduce the spread of germs by wiping down nonporous surfaces like countertops and tables with disinfectant wipes that can kill infectious microorganisms quickly.
  • Follow and enforce hand hygiene compliance standards among all. Staff, residents, and visitors must all follow proper hand hygiene protocols. Simply washing hands frequently with soap and water is one of the most important ways health care workers and others can avoid getting sick and spreading germs to others.
  • It’s important to use medical- and nonmedical-grade gloves appropriately. In the long term care setting, proper glove use can reduce the risk of contamination from blood or other bodily fluids. Gloves can also help reduce germ dissemination to the environment and between the patient/resident and worker. Using a nonmedical glove for a medical task can place the health care worker and patient at risk. Remind staff to always wash their hands after taking gloves off.
  • If not already done, ensure that staff and residents get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccination is always the first line of defense, and it’s not too late to get one. The elderly are already a highly susceptible group to contract the flu and are a population with more complex health problems. Additionally, death from influenza is actually more common among those with heart disease than among people with any other chronic condition, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
One last thing that providers do not always address, but must remember: They must take care of their own health, inside and out. Health care workers are on the frontlines of care and can easily forget about their own well-being. Simple things like sleep, healthy eating, and rest can go a long way to help keep immune systems strong. Avoid eating “whites,” as in white sugar or white flour, for example. And don’t forget to laugh! Enjoying a funny movie or sharing an amusing story can go a long way in keeping the immune system happy and healthy.
Working together, professionals in the industry can make an impact by minimizing the spread of cold and flu.
Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ, is chief nursing officer for Medline Industries. For more information, go to: