This year's flu season seems to be setting records every week, with older people and those with weakened immune systems at particularly high risk. As a result, many nursing homes, assisted living centers and residential rehab facilities around the country are taking extra precautions to protect their patients — everything from limiting excursions and access to common areas to requiring that visitors wear face masks and gloves.
In California, which has been particularly hard hit by this flu epidemic, Poway’s Villa Pomerado Convalescent Care Center in San Diego County closed for several days after four of the facility’s 92 residents tested positive for influenza. Residents were forced to stay in their rooms and away from common areas until seven days after symptoms first appeared.
“There was definitely a bit of cabin fever going on,” Marilyn Bailey, the facility’s director of nursing, told the San Diego Union Tribune. “One of the big things that our folks love is bingo, and we’ve had to cancel that, too. That has not been a popular move, but it’s what we’ve had to do to protect our people from the flu.”
Out of precaution for patients, the Point Loma Rehabilitation Center, also in San Diego, was in a similar lockdown mode. “You have the most complex and the most frail people in our communities living in these facilities. They’re the most vulnerable to begin with, and we have to be hyper vigilant,” Mike Wasserman, M.D., chief of Rockport Healthcare Services, the company that runs Point Loma Rehab, told the Tribune.
In these types of facilities, residents share dining halls, recreation rooms, rehabilitation gyms and patios — all popular breeding areas for germs. So when shutdowns occur, many residents are limited to staying in their rooms, even for rehab procedures and dining.
In Tacoma, Wash., a senior living center went into an 11-day partial lockdown after several residents started exhibiting flulike symptoms. While this was frustrating for patients in Point Defiance Village, most realized the necessity. “I take it seriously. I have to,” resident Kelly Bendixen told KOMO news. Bendixen had a kidney transplant, leaving his immune system vulnerable to a viral infection. “It’s a thing they had to do to protect us.”
Cobblestone Health Campus in Terre Haute, Ind., took preventive steps even before seeing a spread of flu cases. Spokesperson Meleah Reed told WTHI news that they check the residents' vitals up to three times a day and request that visitors plan ahead. "If you come into our campus and you have flulike symptoms, we just ask that you put a mask on," Reed said. "To protect yourself to our residents and our staff."
For those with a loved one in a nursing home or similar facility, it may be a good idea to look into the establishment's flu-preparation protocol and make certain that patients are protected. Before visiting, make sure that you have had your flu shot and are not showing any flu symptoms. Call ahead and see what precautions you may need to take while visiting, including limiting the number of people coming, whether you will be required to wear gloves and masks, and if you will be required to stay in the patient's room for the visit. And don't forget to make ample use of the hand sanitizer and wash your hands thoroughly.
If you can't visit in person, checking in more often by phone and mail may ease the isolation that your loved one may experience due to a flu lockdown.