COVID-19 has created particular problems for long-term care facilities and those who care for these patients. One of the significant problems with nursing homes is that patients are kept in close quarters, which allows illness to spread through the facilities quite rapidly. With the majority of long-term care facility patients being in the highest-risk age group for COVID-related deaths, many nursing homes are taking extreme measures throughout the pandemic to keep their patients—and staff—safe.
Long-Term Care Facility Nurses
All nurses require compassion and empathy; however, these characteristics are even more necessary in long-term care facility nurses. These nurses care for some of the most vulnerable members of our population, and they do it with a special tenderness not found in all nursing professions.
Long-term care facility nurses care for patients with long-term illnesses and disabilities. These patients are typically elderly. Long-term care facility nurses' responsibilities include vital checks, IV therapy, enteral tube feedings, respiratory therapy, catheter care, wound care, medicine administration, and much more. In addition to providing care for these patients, long-term care nurses provide support for patients' families.
Long-term care facility nurses can have various job titles, including bedside nurse, unit manager, director of nursing services, and infection control nurse. Like most other nurses, long-term care facility nurses have faced a challenging year in 2020 and were required to adapt quickly to ensure their patients’ safety.
COVID-19 Outbreaks in Long-Term Care Facilities
Since the majority of patients in long-term care facilities are older adults often with underlying medical conditions, nursing homes and their residents are at high risk of being affected by respiratory pathogens such as COVID-19. However, as we all know by now, nurses also put themselves at risk of contracting COVID-19 just by going to work in a high-risk environment. Recent data has reported more than 900,000 cases and 100,000 deaths from COVID-19 among long-term care facility patients and staff.
Preventing outbreaks in nursing homes requires a special protocol. An infection prevention and control program (IPC) should be developed with the help of someone with special IPC training to help manage outbreaks within nursing homes. IPC policies and procedures include infection surveillance, healthcare personnel training, and IPC practices auditing. IPCs programs have been implemented in long-term care facilities across the country to limit the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the risk of outbreak.
Lockdowns at Nursing Homes
COVID-19 has caused many nursing homes to close communal areas, restrict group activities, and restrict visitors. While many nursing homes have closed or restricted common areas, residents must wear facemasks or other cloth face coverings when leaving their rooms. However, patients who have trouble breathing or cannot remove the mask themselves are exempt from this requirement.
In addition to patients' regular care, nurses must watch for COVID-19 symptoms and take necessary precautions to keep these individuals quarantined from other patients. The CDC recommends that long-term care facilities have plans for how residents who develop COVID-19 will be cared for, as well as plans for testing and social distancing.
Many long-term care facilities organize social events and group activities for residents, which benefits mental, emotional, and physical health. With visitors and group activities being restricted, the change in routine and isolation has left many residents feeling lonely.
How Nurses Are Helping Patients Cope with No Visitors
For many residents in long-term care facilities, regular visits with family members help boost morale—especially around the holidays. However, since many facilities have prohibited visitors, patients have been left feeling lonely as they miss their families.
While long-term care facility nurses can provide great company for patients, many are now trying to meet the demand of all the patients with staffing shortages. This means that nurses don’t have the ability to chat as often as some patients would like, and other patients can no longer drop in for visits. Additionally, if nurses and other staff members get sick themselves, there could be even fewer nurses available to care for patients.
Some nurses are turning to technology to help patients stay in touch with their family members. Calling patients’ family members on the phone for patients who can’t do it themselves is a task that many long-term care facilities nurses have taken on.
Facetime and other video chat platforms make it possible for residents to talk face-to-face with their loved ones. Many nurses are helping set up these video calls or teaching their residents how to use their phones, tablets, and computers to see their families.
Long-Term Effects of COVID-19 on Long-Term Care Facilities
Many experts are predicting that the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-lasting effects on long-term care facilities. The pandemic has exposed various flaws in long-term care facilities across the country, despite nurses’ best efforts to provide high-quality care.
One of these flaws is that there is no mandated nurse-to-patient ratio. With the U.S. nursing shortage, this means there are few nurses to care for long-term care facility patients. Because of staffing shortages and visitor restrictions, there is a question about the quality of care patients are receiving.
Families and caregivers often visit every day, providing care and support to patients. With the risk of nurses also getting sick, many people worry about the quality of care their loved ones are receiving in long-term care facilities.
Because there are not enough nurses in many long-term care facilities, demand on nurses can quickly lead to burnout, stress, and lack of sleep, which in turn hinders their immune system, putting them at risk for getting ill and/or contracting COVID-19. Burnout can also lead to high turnover rates of long-term care facility nurses.
Fortunately, many people are advocating for changes in long-term care facilities. While it is unfortunate that it took a pandemic to expose cracks in our long-term healthcare system, hopefully changes will allow nurses to provide high-quality care to their patients without getting burnt out.
How Travel Nursing Can Help Long-Term Care Facilities During COVID-19
As we previously mentioned, long-term care facility nurses are at high risk of contracting COVID-19, and many have over the last nine months. While this leads to fewer full-time permanent nurses on duty, travel nursing has helped many facilities combat this loss and continue to care for patients.
Travel nurses can fill short- or long-term openings, whether they are needed because staffed nurses catch the coronavirus or any of the other various reasons they cannot work. Travel nurses can have various specialties, and while some focus on long-term care facilities, others are registered nurses who work in various healthcare environments. Travel nurses can sign short-term and long-term contracts with the facility, which is especially convenient during the pandemic when nurses could be out for at least two weeks if they become sick.
Travel nursing has helped fill the needs of healthcare facilities long before the COVID-19 pandemic, and many nurses are choosing to take on travel nursing assignments to help more patients and fill gaps during this health crisis.
At OneStaff Medical, we help travel nurses connect with health care facilities in need of additional help. We work with numerous long-term care facilities to fill CNA, RN, and LPN roles. To start working with one of our staffers, call us today at 877-783-1483 or apply here.