It’s Time to Get Serious About Preventing Infections in Long-Term Care Facilities


Article Categories: Diseases & Environment



The current Covid-19 pandemic is a blaring wake-up call for us to realize how vulnerable older patients are to infectious diseases. Now more than ever, it's time to ramp up infection control efforts, especially in long-term care facilities. We cannot let our guards down as nursing assistants. Not ever.

To fully understand how to tackle the challenge of breaking the infection cycle, we must first know what circumstances lead to this problem.

There are several things at play that put older patients at risk for infections. Let's break this complex scenario into smaller, easily understandable pieces.

Firstly, the US is experiencing a surge in the older population, with the rest of the baby boomers retired by 2030. If you’re asking how many older people are in this category, it's currently at 73 million. That should shake things up for us, don’t you think? This lot will need some form of healthcare services, and many will look for nursing homes and assisted living facilities to house them in their final stage of life.

Secondly, a study found that healthcare-acquired infections (HAIs) or infections a patient gets while receiving medical attention are quite common. The overall negative effect of HAIs in nursing homes is now estimated to be more than that of acute care facilities.

Another problem is the age-related changes that result in weak immunity in older patients. An aged body does not build enough resistance against diseases. It doesn't respond well to vaccinations, too.

Older people also have a host of chronic conditions that make treatment more complicated. Some will have urinary catheters, feeding tubes, and surgically inserted devices that serve as breeding grounds for disease-causing microorganisms.

Older patients in nursing homes experience functional decline. They find self-care and activities of daily living increasingly difficult to carry out. They struggle with hygiene measures, such as bathing, oral care, and perineal care after toileting, all of which significantly reduce pathogens.

Grouped living quarters is another reason why infections are on the rise in long-term care facilities. Residents share common areas, equipment, appliances, and furniture. Microorganisms spread fast this way.

The list of factors that lead to increased cases of infectious diseases in long-term care facilities does not end here. We must also consider the lack of drive to enforce infection control procedures by the management. There is also the problem of lack of knowledge by the staff. In worse-case scenarios, an outbreak starts where the culprit is bacteria that do not respond to antibiotic treatment, among others.

CNAs like you can take an active part in preventing the spread of infections among residents by keeping in mind the following:

1. Having clean hands is the key.

Hand hygiene is the simplest, yet most effective way to prevent the spread of harmful microorganisms.

Take note of the situations wherein you must wash your hands: Before and after performing care procedures, after touching anything visibly dirty such as the trash bin, the toilet, or the ground, and after exposure to bodily fluids.

You may use hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands if you cannot perform handwashing.

2. Use personal protective equipment when needed.

Depending on a care procedure, you may use gloves, masks, and eye protection.

Change gloves for every care task, for example, in between oral care and change of incontinence pads or cleaning pressure ulcers. Change gloves before seeing another patient. Use the items only once and discard them properly after use.

3. Disinfect all equipment and frequently touched surfaces.

Many patients share the same equipment, so disease transmission is very likely. It's crucial to sanitize and disinfect these items together with other frequently touched surfaces such as doorknobs, kitchen counters, bedside tables, and bed rails. Do this regularly according to agency protocols.

4. Clean the surroundings.

Microorganisms thrive in dark, warm, and moist places. The ground is also teeming with many pathogens. For these reasons, it's necessary to keep the immediate environment clean.

5. Dispose of waste properly.

Another factor that feeds the cycle of infection is the improper handling of waste. Make sure to dispose of waste in the appropriate trash bin, especially those contaminated with blood and bodily fluids.

6. Take note of the common signs and symptoms of an infection.

An observant and vigilant CNA is a gem. Help the healthcare team look out for signs of infection such as diarrhea, vomiting, cough, colds, or fever. Report confusion or any change in behavior, especially in residents in their advanced years. A wound that is red, swollen, and with pus needs to be reported, too.

7. Take care of yourself.

If you are sick, you can transfer bacteria and viruses to your co-workers and patients. Keeping yourself healthy is indirectly stopping the spread of infectious diseases.

Long-term care facilities are home to the most vulnerable population. A strong dedication to practicing strict infection control is the way to protect older patients.

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