HOW COVID-19 HAS CHANGED SENIOR CARE IN MAINE
Headlines about the coronavirus and deaths at nursing homes around the country and in Maine have left families of elderly loved ones shaken, confused and worried. Senior care facilities in Maine for the growing elderly population are safe though and resident health and safety continues to be a top priority. How has the virus changed the way things are done?
In Maine, nursing homes have accounted for more than 20% of COVID-19 cases and more than half the deaths. The reasons why are clear. Elderly people, especially those with multiple underlying health conditions, are especially susceptible to the virus. Sometimes crowded and frequent close contact in nursing facilities has meant a perfect environment for the spread of infectious diseases.
But there is another often overlooked reason why senior care facilities are particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus: the high number of patients with dementia. In most senior communities, more than 60% of residents have some form of cognitive impairment, including Alzheimer’s. Many of these patients don’t have the ability to understand – or simply don’t remember – the need for hand washing, covering their nose or mouth, or social distancing.
Even the simple act of testing a dementia client for Covid can be difficult. The newer saliva swaps, although less unpleasant than nasal swabs, tend to go so far down the back of the throat and can cause “gagging.” The challenges that ensue dealing with patients afflicted by dementia are obvious.
All of this has meant nursing homes are breeding grounds for the spread of this incurable disease. Safety protocols have adapted to respect the needs and capabilities of this vulnerable population.
Over the last year senior living communities in Maine and New Hampshire have followed updated CDC safety standards and headed off COVID-19. Creative “best practices” have gone beyond federal guidelines. One facility has its staff wear T-shirts with slogans saying, “Remember 6 Feet Apart” and “Been Social Distancing Since March 2020” to remind residents of the need for space between themselves and others.
Facilities follow new intake requirements, termed “Cautious Admissions,” whereby applicants must agree to strict and targeted rules, such as testing negative for the COVID-19 virus twice. Other safety measures include decreased personal contact and increased use of telehealth. Family members are now allowed to visit but must follow strict protocols for checking in and spending time in a community. In addition, the state recently required nursing homes to perform wide scale testing when a single case of COVID-19 is detected.
These measures work. Active cases have significantly decreased in senior Maine communities that had outbreaks.
At this point with the implementation of safe and best practices at Maine’s senior living facilities, a visit to a nursing home should be safer than visiting the local grocery store. Families looking to place their elderly relatives in long-term care environments should be confident that their loved ones will receive the care and safety they need.