What’s it going to take to protect nursing home residents from the coronavirus? That question has kept caregivers up at night and perplexed policy experts.
As the virus wears on after eight months, making its daily trudge across the United States and back, one answer seems to be rising to the top of the list: private resident rooms.
Yes, there is no disputing the impact of frequent testing and high-quality personal protective equipment, but a virus that can permeate borders of buildings and people so effortlessly also demands structural reinforcements. And nursing homes in this country, which are, on average, decades old, certainly could use the upgrade. Some facilities may feature only private rooms, but not nearly enough.
The idea may seem obvious to those who are well-acquainted with the field. On Tuesday, the Washington Post published a story pointing out that residents of Green Houses, a model that emphasizes small buildings with private rooms, have weathered the pandemic extremely well. Their residents are much less likely to get coronavirus as those who live in typical nursing homes — and much less likely to die from it, the article reported.
I also recently spoke to a couple of people in the industry who know a thing or two about the value of private rooms. Deke Cateau, CEO of A.G. Rhodes, based in Atlanta, noted that the pandemic has disproportionately affected African-Americans because of pre-existing conditions and comorbidities. However, the organization’s flagship location, whose resident population is 92% African-American, actually has fared better than the other two A.G. Rhodes facilities — with predominantly white resident populations — during this period. It has had a total five resident cases of COVID-19. Why? Private rooms.
“That definitely points to design elements that can offset some of these natural inequities,” Cateau said. “I think there’s a lot we can do to combat those disparities with a little bit of effort.”
Meanwhile, Lane Bowen, a highly respected long-term care executive who has spent more than 40 years in the field, said if he could change one aspect of the field as a result of COVID-19, it would be to make structural improvements to facilities.
“If I had unlimited funds, I would rebuild nursing homes into private rooms. There’d be no three- and four-bed wards,” he told me, adding he’d add other enhancements, such as negative-pressure rooms, that help with infection control.
Of course, private rooms cost money, and that always seems to be the sticking point in this field when it comes to enacting real change.
But if we want to figure out how to beat the novel coronavirus, we likely have to go back to the drawing board. And devise more up-to-date and pandemic-proof nursing home settings.
Liza Berger is Senior Editor of McKnight’s Long-Term Care News. Follow her @LizaBerger19.