Nursing Homes Are Starkly Vulnerable to Coronavirus


In tweaking its existing guidance, the federal government is now telling nursing homes to bar visits by people who are sick and have traveled to affected countries and offers procedures for determining when nursing homes and hospitals to transfer Covid-19 patients to one another.

Earlier in the week, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention gave guidance to these long-term facilities to post signs discouraging visitation by people with respiratory illness and give sick leave to employees so they don’t come to work ill.

Since the outbreak at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., nursing home chains and trade groups, along with mom-and-pop homes and assisted living operations, have been trying to get policies in place with uncertain information. At St. Anne Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, in Seattle, a 47-bed skilled nursing home, signs went up in January discouraging visits from relatives or friends with symptoms of flu or colds, but the concern has gone into overdrive after the nearby Kirkland outbreak, said Marita Smith, the home’s administrator.

“My concern is people who are asymptomatic,” she said.

She said the staff knows the families of the residents and the plan is to be heightened in their scrutiny of visitors to make sure no one is sick. She also said that she plans not to take admissions from the hospitals from “the east side,” which is the location of Kirkland and of Evergreen Hospital, where the sickened nursing home patients were sent.

“I don’t want to be accused of discrimination but we wouldn’t want to admit anyone from Evergreen or Life Care until we know more,” she said.

“What keeps me awake at night,” she continued, are a handful of questions: how long is the incubation period of the virus; will traditional cleaning products work to sanitize against it; can you become ill more than once?

St. Anne Nursing is an independent nursing home, a veritable mom-and-pop shop. On the other end of the ownership spectrum is a huge company like Genesis HealthCare, a Pennsylvania corporation that has 400 assisted living, nursing home and senior living communites around the country. Asked about its planning for Covid-19, the company issued a brief statement saying that its team is meeting regularly to discuss the issue and is coordinating its efforts based on government guidance.


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