by Kathleen Heren, Rhode Island Long Term Care Ombudsman
Happy New Year to everyone. It would have pleased me very much to be able to concentrate on issues of long-term care instead of writing about our old-time enemy COVID. As you are well aware there is a dangerous daily rise in cases as well as hospital admissions. It makes no sense to see this as we have a very high vaccination rate. It only goes to prove this virus needs a low number of unvaccinated individuals to determine the rise of cases.
The long-term care facilities have had so many deaths among their residents. At the beginning of COVID, no one was prepared to handle such a horrible infection. Now that the long-term care community knows how to report and treat COVID, why are the numbers still high? It is also troubling that people, whether they are family or friends of the residents, are not required to be vaccinated.
I am certain that everyone who is reading this would now like to scream “What’s the matter with her?” In no way am I suggesting that another lockdown should occur. It just seems senseless that people who are visiting are not required to be vaccinated. The staff can ask the visitors if they are vaccinated, but cannot make it a condition of entry.
Could it be that the regulators as well as family members know how many residents were harmed by isolation? The possibility also exists that restrictions were lifted without thinking about the consequences. Last winter the yearly flu incidents were the lowest they have ever been. Why? Because people were wearing masks. That’s not the case now. Very few places have mask requirements so, will flu rear its ugly head again?
"There are things that can be done to lessen the risk of COVID and flu infections [during visits]...such as common sense...you don't belong there even if you have a common cold." --- Kathleen Heren, Long Term Care Ombudsman
There are things that can be done to lessen the risk of COVID and flu infections such as families using common sense. When visiting, you should be aware that you don’t belong there even if you have a common cold. Frequent hand washing is another way to control the transmission of any infection, as well as social distancing from other residents and their families if you are going into the dining room to share a meal or attend an activity. Don’t visit other residents nor wander around the facility.
If you are going to take your family members out, be aware of where you are taking them. If it’s to your home, isolate them from unvaccinated family members. Unvaccinated relatives should wear a face mask. You may not be the most popular person, but your frail elder is protected.
At this time, we can only hope the newest variant (Omicron) does not spread out of control like the Delta. Everyone is so tired that trying to rally one more time is exhausting. Please contact the Ombudsman office if there are any questions you may have on visitation. We can be reached at 401-785-3340 or email alliancebltc.org.
Note: After Ms. Heren completed this blog, the CDC issued new guidelines on the isolation and quarantine period, which she did send to all care providers. See the latest CDC guidance here.
Ms. Heren provides a monthly guest blog to Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. in which she discusses issues and topics that come across her desk as the Rhode Island State Long Term Care Ombudsman. The opinions expressed in our guest blogs are those of the author(s) only. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Connelly Law Offices, Ltd, or its employees.