Americans living and working in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus pandemic, accounting for roughly a third of all U.S. COVID-19 deaths for most of the outbreak. If you have an older spouse, sibling, parent or other loved one in a nursing home, here are eight key questions to ask, as recommended by experts:
1. What is the status of COVID-19 vaccinations in the facility?
- What proportion of residents and staff are fully vaccinated? You can also now find vaccination rates of both residents and staff at any Medicare-certified nursing home and compare it to state and national averages on Medicare.gov’s Care Compare website.
- What is the facility doing to educate residents and staff on the vaccines’ safety and effectiveness?
- Are vaccines readily available for residents and staff who require them?
2. Has anyone at the facility tested positive for COVID-19 in the past two weeks?
- This includes residents, staff, vendors and anyone else who has access to the facility.
- If COVID-19 has been detected, how many people have tested positive?
- Who’s being tested and how often? (To identify positive cases, facilities need to be testing regularly.)
3. What is the facility doing to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks?
- How are staff and other people entering the facility being screened for COVID-19?
- If positive cases are identified, how are they being handled? Are residents being isolated? Are staff quarantining at home?
- How is the facility being sanitized, and how often?
- What social-distancing measures are in place? What precautions are in place for residents who are not in private rooms?
4. Does the staff have sufficient levels of personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks, face shields, hand sanitizer, gowns and gloves — to keep both staff and residents safe?
- If no, what is the plan to obtain more and what safety measures are in place in the meantime?
- Has the staff been trained in how to properly use each type of PPE?
5. What is the nursing home doing to help residents stay connected with their families or other loved ones during this time?
- Is in-person visitation allowed? If yes, what infection control measures are in place? If no, when will in-person visitation resume?
- Does the nursing home help residents call their loved ones by phone or video?
- Will the nursing home set up a regular schedule for you to speak with your loved one?
6. How is the facility communicating important information to residents and their loved ones on a regular basis?
- How can residents, staff and family members find out the COVID-19 vaccination rates of other residents and staff in the facility?
- If a COVID-19 case within the facility is confirmed, how long will it take for the residents and their families or representatives to be notified?
- Will information be shared via phone, email, a website or another way?
7. Is the nursing home currently at full staffing levels for nurses, aides and other workers?
- What is the plan to make sure the needs of nursing home residents are met — like bathing, feeding, medication management, social engagement — if the nursing home has staffing shortages?
8. How are healthy-living programs being maintained?
- How are communal activities like exercising, socializing and entertainment being adapted for social distancing?
- Have any services been cut?
If you’re concerned about the safety and well-being of a loved one who lives in a nursing home, contact your state’s long-term care ombudsman.
Editor's Note: This article, originally published on April 24, 2020, has been updated to reflect new information.