The early days of the COVID-19 outbreak put the nation on edge, leading to widespread fear for the safety of sick and older adults. Sadly, those fears were well-founded. The rapid spread of the disease through long-term care facilities led to severe illness and death among residents and staff. With limited personal protective equipment and no access to a vaccine, nursing home risk management centered around testing, cleaning, and visitation restrictions. The ensuing separation from loved ones led to increased stress and trauma for nursing home residents and their families.
The release of the first COVID-19 vaccine in late 2020 created hope for these residents, their families, and caregivers. Vaccine supplies were limited then, but elderly patients in residential settings were given top priority, along with healthcare workers, in the early stages of the rollout.
Is the COVID-19 Vaccine as Effective in Elderly People?
Concerns about vaccine efficacy in the elderly eased as infection rates dropped. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Geriatric Society found that infections and deaths declined significantly among nursing home patients and staff in the weeks following vaccine clinics. Improvements were most notable after six weeks, and the robust results positively impacted nursing home operations.
After a year of restrictions on non-emergency nursing home visits, the federal government revised its recommendations to allow responsible visitation. Residents had more freedom to interact with friends and family, providing a much-needed boost to their emotional health.
What Does This Mean for Nursing Home Insurance Clients?
As the spread of COVID in nursing homes becomes less of a concern, your guidance for clients may change. Encourage them to look at the data before altering visitor policies, activity planning, and dining services. They should also look at their vaccination rate among staff and residents before changing staff testing protocols.
While vaccination significantly reduces COVID transmission and deaths in nursing homes, your clients must consider other factors when updating their policies. The same study indicated that nursing home size, the number of registered nurses on staff, and the ethnic and racial makeup of the resident population were associated with declines in infections and deaths.
The encouraging data on vaccine effectiveness in elderly nursing home residents support changes to visitor policies and occupational health practices. However, you must make your clients aware of their nursing home risk management responsibilities and encourage them to consider all factors before lifting restrictions or changing staff testing policies. You should also strongly encourage them to continue vaccinating eligible residents and staff and to heed official guidance on booster shots, masks, and social distancing. A prudent, data-driven approach can help your clients reduce their COVID-related risks while providing an improved quality of life to their residents.