How to Protect Residents: Highlighting the Unparalleled Need for Hygiene in Senior Care
It’s always important to stay vigilant in keeping your senior residents safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Proper hygiene and sanitization practices are vital for both residents and staff. For seniors, personal hygiene can become a sensitive topic as residents age, as they’re often more dependent on the help of others in their day-to-day lives. Ensure the safety of your entire senior care community, including management, staff, and residents, by employing proper sanitizing, cleaning, and hygiene procedures. Review these essential measures to keep this at-risk population safe during these unprecedented times.
The outbreak of Coronavirus has deeply impacted senior care. Facility managers are doing their best to protect the residents under their purview, whether they’re overseeing independent living retirement communities or running full-care memory or rehabilitation centers. Senior living is a sensitive industry, where management must continuously assess the safety protocols and ensure you meet the needs of patients, family members, and staff.
Now with the outbreak of Coronavirus, we see these needs escalate. Not only are managers concerned about the health of residents, but their mental health and wellbeing, as well. One way to ease your mind and protect your residents is to review the critical safety and hygiene protocols to keep your residents safe.
There are grants and assistance to help your facility update your procedures if you’re struggling. One point that everyone agrees on—protecting senior citizens is a top priority as we battle this disease. Many communities are reaching out to help and support senior care in small ways whenever possible. The big responsibility, however, falls on the shoulders of senior care facility managers and providers.
Here are a few things senior care providers can do to monitor and encourage positive hygiene in senior care facilities.
What Caretakers Can Do to Keep Residents Safe
Caretakers, like nurses, assistants, and other medical staff are the people who come in contact most with residents at senior care facilities. These front-line workers are the ones who work day-in and day-out to keep residents safe in their homes and provide a caring and healthy environment. It’s of utmost importance that these essential caregivers take the highest precautions when interacting with their residents.
Encourage Work at One Facility Only
In senior care facilities—especially those with more than one facility in a community—it’s not uncommon for caregivers to move between facilities, caring for multiple residents. While this can help augment hours and staffing shortages, it can also increase the risk of spreading illness between centers.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, caregivers must limit their exposure to other facilities and residents whenever possible. Caregivers should avoid moving between facilities on the same day. All workers should be screened regularly for any signs or symptoms of COVID-19 and should report any potential exposure or concerns to facility management.
Use Hand Sanitizer Regularly
If you’ve ever been in a hospital, you’ve probably noticed that staff, nurses, and doctors use hand sanitizer when entering and leaving patient rooms. In hospitals, this level of sanitation is a habit, with hand sanitizer dispensers placed in every patient room.
While it may not be feasible to install hand sanitizing stations outside of every resident’s apartment or room, you should still encourage and remind caregivers to use sanitizer regularly, especially after a direct interaction with residents. Provide caretakers with personal bottles of hand sanitizer to carry with them and use throughout the day.
Another way to encourage sanitizer use is to make hand sanitizer available at nurses’ stations, med rooms, and any other areas caretakers frequent throughout their duties. Build a habit of using sanitizer throughout your facility until it becomes routine.
Keep an Eye on Resident Hygiene
Caretakers often have the most interaction with residents, so they should monitor and follow-up on any notices of decreased personal care residents exhibit. These signs could include tiredness or a change in personality as well. Encourage caretakers to take note if residents are displaying signs or symptoms of the virus (or generally seem to be feeling unwell). They should notify administration and take protective measures to screen the resident and keep them isolated from other residents.
Make sure that residents who require assistance with showering and bathing are on a regular shower schedule. Showering and bathing can become sensitive topics, but it’s so important to encourage residents to focus on hygiene right now.
If caretakers notice any alarming hygiene conditions within a resident’s apartment or room, they should notify administrators so they can take proper measures to help residents live in a clean and sanitary environment. With residents spending more time isolated in their rooms and apartments, it might be more difficult for less independent seniors to keep up with taking out the trash, cleaning, and sanitizing their own homes.
Residents may feel embarrassed about asking for help but remember that caretakers may be their only social bridge and connection to the outside world. Encourage caretakers to help sensitively. Children, grandchildren, and family who would usually notice a decline in personal care are often seeing their loved ones from only a distance—or not at all, with restricted visiting. It’s harder to assess the “full picture” over the phone or through a distanced window visit.
What Staff and Administration Can Do to Protect Seniors
The administrators and staff of senior care facilities do the vital job of making sure the day-to-day operations of the facility run smoothly. Staff plays a critical role in ensuring that all residents and staff have a clean, safe, and friendly environment to live and work in.
Provide Regular COVID-19 Status Updates
Administrators must keep staff and residents informed of the latest changes and status updates regarding COVID-19. News about the virus is changing on an almost daily basis. Stay in close contact with your local health department, as well as any medical professionals who oversee your facility.
Should you discover any positive cases of COVID-19 in your facility, you should notify staff and residents (and their families). Communication is critical to keeping everyone safe, so share the information as widely as you can. It’s a good idea to post signage that informs of best practices to limit and stop the spread of illness throughout your facility. Update these signs regularly, as the CDC and other health advisors release new information.
Sanitize Common Areas and High-Traffic Areas
While common areas may not be open for residents to gather, staff should still sanitize the areas frequently. Wipe down tabletops and countertops with sanitizing cleaner regularly throughout the day. This practice is especially crucial during high-traffic times when residents might be out of their units and apartments.
When cleaning, you should pay close attention to maintaining and sanitizing other areas of your facility that you might not often consider. Touchpoints are especially essential to clean, including:
- Elevator buttons, both inside and outside the elevator
- Handrails along walls, stairwells, and balconies
- Doorknobs and handles
- Windows in common areas (especially if your facility is still encouraging window visits with friends and family)
- Mailboxes and areas where packages are delivered or picked up
- Bathrooms in common areas
- Light switches, call buttons, or door alarms.
Remind Staff to Follow and Enforce Proper Guidance for Other Staff
We’re all in this together, and it’s important that staff members help remind each other and set good examples for everyone. Making sure your staff is following recommended guidelines for safety and sanitation is critical for protecting both your residents and fellow staff from danger during an outbreak.
Enforce mask-wearing and proper PPE policies for all essential personnel, as per recommendations by the CDC and your local health department. If your facility has the resources, provide staff with the proper PPE needed to protect themselves and residents (masks, gloves, gowns, and adequate hand sanitizer). Work with other communities and resources if your facility needs to request mask donations or additional PPE supplies if you’re running low.
As we move forward over the next few weeks and even months, you should continue to screen care center staff for signs and symptoms of the virus (or any flu-like illness). Encourage them to follow proper handwashing and sanitation practices while at work.
How to Encourage Residents to Maintain Good Hygiene
Seniors are in the highest risk population for contracting COVID-19. Because of their high risk, it’s important to encourage residents to maintain proper hygiene practices to keep themselves and their neighbors safe.
Of course, care center management should use tact and sensitivity when encouraging residents to employ good hygiene practices. A gentle reminder often works better than focusing on the fears we all face. Many seniors are worried and frightened, which can lead to avoidance and choosing to ignore the issue. Help your residents understand the importance of safety measures while reassuring them that the staff is there to protect them and keep them well.
Provide Hand Washing and Sanitizing Procedure Reminders
Post signs in common area bathrooms reminding residents to wash their hands for a full 20 seconds with soap and water (singing a song can help). Stock common area bathrooms with adequate soap and no-touch paper towel dispensers.
For independent residents, provide reminders in their mailboxes to stock up on essentials like hand soap, hand sanitizer, and other personal cleaning products when running low. Remind residents they can place grocery orders or have family deliver essentials (during designated delivery windows). Staff may need to help with order placement until it becomes comfortable.
Encourage Residents to Follow a Routine
While their daily activity might change due to the limited community events, trips, and day-to-day outings, residents should still follow a daily routine to stay active throughout the day. The sense of routine can boost mental health and offer a feeling of control over their circumstances. Serve meals at consistent times daily and check in with residents when possible throughout the day.
If services—such as laundry, housekeeping, or dining—change, keep residents informed with the most current schedule. Increase services that focus on cleaning, if possible, or at least remain consistent with this essential service.
Remind Residents Its Okay to Ask for Help
Senior citizens value their independence; sometimes, asking for help with everyday activities is challenging for them. Residents need reassurance and encouragement to ask for help, especially when it concerns their safety, health, and hygiene.
Your residents might need additional help with simple tasks like taking out the garbage, tidying up their apartments, making their beds, or sorting laundry. Something as simple as combing their hair can be a huge emotional boost. Remember that staff may offer the only social contact residents have.
Encourage caretakers and staff to keep an eye on the wellbeing of residents—do they notice decreased personal care, or have they seen less of a resident who is usually out and about? Stay vigilant and remind residents that you are there to help them and keep them safe and comfortable in their living space.
This outbreak has been challenging on our economic and physical health, but also on our mental and emotional wellbeing. We will make it through this difficult situation, but it’s more important than ever that we come together to protect those in senior care.
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Our team at RWS has always viewed the relationship with each of our customers as a partnership. Through this partnership, we will work together and get through these unique and challenging times. As always, should you need service contact us 24/7 at 1-800-356-1444. Stay safe, and be well!